A woman arrested for protesting against the obligatory veiling law in Iran has been sentenced to two years in prison, according to Tehran’s prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi.
Since late December, dozens of women have joined the symbolic protest by taking off their hijab — the Islamic headscarf that is obligatory in Iran — in public. Collectively, they have become known as “Women of the Revolution Avenue,” or “Revolution Women,” referring to the street where protests began. The demonstrations have been far-reaching and led to reactions across the political spectrum, including from many prominent figures. Zahra Rahnavard, a leader of the 2009 Green movement, who has been under house arrest together with her husband and 2009 presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi since 2011, sent a message of support for the campaign and voiced her support for discarding the rule on mandatory hijab. Morteza Tajzadeh, who was a deputy interior minister under the reformist president Mohammad Khatami – and who was jailed for several years in the aftermath of the 2009 movement — has taken the same position.
Dowlatabadi did not name the sentenced woman, but said that she had been found guilty of “encouraging people to moral corruption by lifting her hijab in public, publicly engaging n a haram [a religiously unlawful] act and showing up in a public place without the sharia-obligated hijab,” and as a result received a sentence of 24 months in prison.
According to Dowlatabad, the judges suspended 21 months of the sentence for five years and the Tehran Prosecutor’s office is appealing this suspension.
This is the Iranian judiciary’s first official response to the nationwide protests against forced hijab.
The movement started in December, when Vida Movahed perched up on a block at the intersection of Revolution Avenue and Vesal Avenue in Central Tehran, and flew her white scarf in the air. This preceded nationwide protests against corruption and economic injustice that shook the country to its foundation and led to thousands of arrests, and the deaths of at least 20 protesters.
Movahed became a global face of discontent in Iran. She was arrested, but many followed her example. This included Maryam Shariatmadari, 32, who police violently pushed off a utility box she was protesting on. She sustained a serious injury but was still imprisoned, although reports indicate she was released on the evening of March 6.
As the country prepares for March 8, when Iranian women join their counterparts around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day, Shariatmadari and Movahed are the names on many people’s minds around the world. In one event at Tabriz University’s medical faculty, Shariatmadari’s picture was used prominently as a symbol of women struggling for their “citizenship rights,” — a promise made by President Hassan Rouhani, who has repeatedly used a language of gender equality but has fallen short on implementing any changes.
The country’s judiciary, controlled by the hardline faction close to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, has taken a stringently hard position on the protesters. Commenting on Movahed, Tehran’s prosecutor said she needed “long-term medicinal treatment and care of a psychologist.”
Nasrin Sotoudeh, a well-known lawyer and human rights activist who has signed up to defend some of the arrested anti-hijab protesters, has said that some of her clients had been beaten up in prison.
Another protester, Narges Hosseini, has been on trial for the last 20 days. According to Sotoudeh, she is charged with “encouraging moral corruption, not observing Sharia-obligated hijab and publicly engaging in a haram act.”