Iran’s ISNA news agency reported on Wednesday that Tehran police had “dealt with” a woman walking her dog in Tehran. Dog-walking is forbidden on the street in Tehran and police have announced a crackdown on the practice in public.

The incident was one of a string of recent documented incidents of police confronting Iranian dog walkers. On Tuesday, activist-in-exile Masih Alinejad posted a video in which a police officer and on-duty soldier savagely attacked a young man walking his dog in front of his house, dragging him to the ground.

In the video, neighbors can be seen running to the man’s aid and offering him water. In the ensuing tumult, the soldier retrieved what appeared to be a Kalashnikov from his car in a bid to scare off an unarmed but outraged bystander.

The chain of incidents has sparked renewed interest in this obscure Iranian law on social media. Tehran residents are also barred from driving with their dogs in the car. Other Iranians, though, defended the rule on the basis that some dog owners cannot control their pets, and even called for its extension.

Conservative commentator Vahid Ashtari, who refers to himself a "justice seeker", wrote on Twitter: "Yesterday I took my daughter to the park. My nerves and mind were torn apart by the dogs. My daughter was constantly scared and crying instead of enjoying playing. Why does no one in the city council and municipality think seriously about this situation?" He followed this up with a slew of videos of stray dogs attacking children.

The pressure seemed to have worked. Earlier this week, Hojjat Nazari, a member of Tehran City Council, announced on Twitter: "An urgent bill to separate children from animals in playgrounds has been approved by the council.” This was adorned with the hashtags #Child_rights and #Child_friendly_city.

It could take months for such a bill to pass into law in Tehran. But in the meantime, dog owners have been targeted by law enforcement on the streets of the capital. In another video first posted on social media on Tuesday, a middle-aged woman wearing chador was abused by an older man who told her: “I will put the dog in your sack.”

Tehran Dog Owners Constantly Under Strain

Being subjected to harassment for the most innocuous of daily gestures is, contrary to the Islamic Republic propaganda’s, part and parcel of urban life in Iran. Mitra, a 40-year-old Tehran resident who owns a small pomeranian, told IranWire of her own experiences trying to give her pet some fresh air.

“We have to take Cotton out at night,” she said, “because they are more likely to confront us during the day. The poor animal really is in torment. I don’t know why they don’t understand that pets also need to get out of the house.

"Even when we take the animal to the parking lot to get some air, there’s someone there to disturb us. Once, my neighbor who often goes to the mosque had a big argument with my 13-year-old son about why he played with a dog, and he said the dog was impure. My son was afraid to go out alone for a long time in case he bumped into him."

The recent incidents have also reignited discussion about the abuse of stray dogs in Iran, which are often rounded up and killed by municipalities. Article 680 of the Islamic Penal Code forbids cruelty to animals. But in addition, as the Twitter campaign Iran Animal Rights recently pointed out, the ban on public dog-walking extends to authorities permanently taking pets away from their owners.

Is Walking a Dog a Crime in Iran?

Citizens attacked by the morality police for taking their furry friends for a walk have not technically committed a criminal offence in Iranian law. Dog ownership has always been controversial under the Islamic Republic but unlike keeping and flying pigeons, which is punishable by one to three years in prison, there are no punishments enshrined in law for public dog-walking.

Human rights lawyer Saeed Dehghan told IranWire that this was all the more notable given that in Iran, some 2,000 criminal offences are listed in the penal code. “Despite the legislature being motivated to criminalize dog walking,” he said, “it never happened and dog walking is still not a crime.”

Tehran Municipality announced a ban on dog walking in public in January 2019. But, Dehghan said, Iranian law is applicable only when enacted by parliament and approved by the Guardian Council, and 15 days after its publication in official state media outlets. Any decrees issued outside this framework are not valid.

“If there is no law,” he said, “police cannot enforce it, and they cannot confiscate what is not criminal contraband. These regulations are either a form of legislation or seeking to bypass the law – and these institutions have no legislative authority. It is not lawful for law enforcement agencies to be issued with instructions independently.”

He adds: “Even if it was a crime, law enforcement officers did not have the right to treat the young man and his family the way they did in that video. This was a criminal act in itself, and those agents ought to be prosecuted.”

Dehghan, a member of the International Bar Association, also pointed out that because the authorities’ punitive action toward dog walkers “violates the personal freedoms of citizens”, the dog walkers could push for them to be prosecuted instead.

Article 570 of the Islamic Penal Code bars police from violating citizens’ “personal liberties “as enshrined in the Constitution. Breaches are punishable by two to three years in prison and a one- to five-year suspension from service.

In fact, Dehghan said, any police officer who interferes with a member of the public peacefully walking their dog could be jailed for a criminal offence. "If Article 570 had been heeded and enforced decisively,” he said, "many of these officials and agents would be in prison by now.”

Related coverage:

Footage of Brutal Murder of Stray Dogs Shocks Iranians

Meet the Heroes Rescuing the Stray Dogs of Shahriar

Slaughter of Dogs Continues in Iran

Officials Order “Destruction” of Stray Dogs in Rasht

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