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Iranian Government to Be Blamed for “Yoghurt Attack” on Unveiled Women

April 3, 2023
Faramarz Davar
3 min read
A video showing a man in Iran’s Mashhad pouring yogurt on two women who were not wearing a hijab went viral on social media
A video showing a man in Iran’s Mashhad pouring yogurt on two women who were not wearing a hijab went viral on social media

A CCTV camera footage surfaced online on March 31 showing a man entering a grocery store in the northeastern city of Mashhad and pouring a bucket of yoghurt on two women for not wearing a mandatory head covering. The owner of the shop intervened and pushed the attacker outside.

The footage went viral on social media and led to rebukes by Iranian citizens, worsening already high tensions between the public and the government over forced hijab rules.

People from all over the country contacted the shop owner, Mahmoud Hajarpour, to express gratitude for his action.

Amir Shahla, a former member of the Mashhad City Council, said on Instagram that the store was filled with flowers, chocolates and sweets that were given by customers.

The authorities closed the shop for several hours after the release of the CCTV footage. A prosecutor issued arrest warrants against both the assailant and the two women.

Women in Iran must conceal their hair with a headscarf while in public and wear loose fitting trousers under their coats.

One day before the video emerged, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement insisting on the need to enforce the Islamic Republic’s forced hijab rule and praising vigilantes who are acting as “promoters of virtue and preventers of vice.”

In its statement on March 30, the ministry announced that “there has been no retreat, and there will be no retreat or leniency when it comes to religious rulings and principles and traditional values.”

“As an unquestionable requirement of Sharia [law], hijab will always be a principle of the Islamic Republic,” it added.

The statement insisted on the ministry’s resolve to act against “the few lawbreakers,” along with vigilantes, the judiciary, law enforcement and “related institutions.”

By expressing support for vigilantes, the government is taking responsibility for their actions. In other words, if a person presenting himself as a “promoter of virtue” or “preventer of vice” and commits a verbal or physical attack against citizens, the Ministry of Interior and the government of the Islamic Republic are accomplices.

If the “promoter of virtue” commits physical acts against citizens, according to Article 156 of the Islamic Penal Code, the victims have a legitimate right to defend themselves.

Article 156 specifies that a citizen has the right to personally defend “the honor, the life and the property” of himself or others, if resorting to “government forces is not practicable within a reasonable period of time or if the intervention by such forces is ineffective in repelling the aggression and danger.”

Ayatollah Assadollah Bayat Zanjani, a religious authority in the Shia holy city of Qom, declared late last year that legitimate defense is compatible with Sharia law.

“If an unknown armed person attacks a Muslim, what is the Sharia duty of a Muslim who witnesses this attack to protect the life of his Muslim brother who is in danger?” the ayatollah was asked.

He answered that it is mandatory for Muslims to defend other Muslims.

Giving a free hand to vigilantes on the pretext of “promoting virtue and preventing vice” means the government promotes crime and supports criminals.

Forced hijab is not a principle of Islam, but the Islamic Republic’s officials have ruled that women without a head covering are “breaking the law,” something Iranian women have opposed since the early days after the 1979 revolution brought Iran’s clerical rulers to power.

The women’s resistance has continued unabated for the past 40 years and intensified after the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in the hands of morality police. Amini had been arrested for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly.

During the nationwide protests triggered by Amini’s death, security forces killed hundreds of protesters and injured hundreds of others, including many women.

Despite this brutal crackdown on the women-led protest movement, the government has not succeeded in putting an end to protests, and a new wave of demonstrations over forced hijab rules started last month with Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

There can be little doubt that the government of the Islamic Republic will be the ultimate loser of the turmoil. But during the unrest, it might deliberately promote criminal acts by one group of citizens against another, inflicting irreparable damage to Iranian society.

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