The National Library of Iran has suspended the membership of several women for declining to wear hijab, library members said Monday, amid a brutal and ongoing crackdown by the Islamic Republic on nationwide protests demanding more freedoms and respect for women’s rights.
Several National Library members protested the suspensions and, in their statement, called it an escalation of "gender apartheid" by the Islamic Republic.
The members said the authorities’ goal was to "eliminate women" from Iranian society.
"The National Library, which logically should be a cultural institution, is now the vanguard of the oppressive army, and is removing researchers and students from the public," the statement reads.
Young Iranian women have been at the forefront of the protest movement sparked by the death last September of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old Amini had been arrested for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly and later died in the custody of Iran’s “morality police”.
All women in Iran must conceal their hair with a headscarf (or hijabs) while in public and wear loose fitting trousers under their coats. But a growing number of women, including celebrities, have appeared in public without head coverings since the eruption of the protest movement last year.
Iranians have widened their protest to include mass poverty, corruption and state-sponsored violence in the country.
Women and even young girls have played a central role in the protests. They have taken off their headscarves, setting them on fire, in an act of defiance against the ideology and laws of the Islamic Republic.
The nationwide protest movement poses one of the most serious challenges to the theocracy installed by the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iranian security forces have killed more than 520 people and detained over 19,000 since the demonstrations began, activists say. Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.