An Iranian women’s rights activist has been jailed for a total of 24 years – including a 15-year term for ‘spreading prostitution by taking off her hijab’.
Saba Kord Afshari, 20, was handed the sentence by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court after being found guilty of removing her headscarf as well as ‘spreading propaganda against the state’ and ‘assembly and collusion’.
Afshari and her mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, had been prominent members of the White Wednesdays protest group, which spoke out against the compulsory hijab.
The pair routinely posted videos of themselves walking around the streets of Tehran without their headscarves to encourage other women to flout the law.
She was first arrested in the Iranian capital in August last year and jailed for a year, according to Iran Human Rights Monitor. Afshari was released in February but continued to protest against human rights abuses by the Iranian regime, which saw her re-arrested in June.
She eventually ended up in the women’s wing of Evin Prison, in Tehran, where human rights groups say she was pressured into making video confessions of her crimes.
Despite her mother also being arrested, Afshari refused to record the videos. On August 19 she was brought for trial, and on August 27 her lawyer says he was informed of the new sentence.
The punishment was increased by half because of ‘numerous charges and previous records’, Iran Human Rights Monitor said.
Three other female rights activists – Shima Babaii, Mojgan Lali, and Shaghayegh Mahaki – were also jailed for a total of 18 years. The trio were given six years each for ‘association and collusion against national security’ and ‘propaganda against the state’.
Iranians sending images to a US-based activist over an anti-headscarf campaign could now face up to 10 years in prison, it has emerged.
Masih Alinejad founded the ‘White Wednesdays’ campaign in Iran to encourage women to post photographs of themselves without headscarves online as a way of opposing the compulsory hijab.
The semi-official Fars news agency has quoted the head of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, as saying that ‘those who film themselves or others while removing the hijab and send photos to this woman … will be sentenced to between one and 10 years in prison.’
The Islamic headscarf is mandatory in public for all women in Iran. Those who violate the rule are usually sentenced to two months in prison or less, and fined around $25. Lately, a few daring women in Iran’s capital have been taking off their mandatory headscarves in public, risking arrest and drawing the ire of hardliners.
The simple act of walking has become a display of defiance for one young Iranian woman who often moves in Tehran’s streets without a hijab. With every step, she risks harassment or even arrest by Iran’s morality police, whose job is to enforce the strict dress code imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The hijab debate has further polarised Iranians at a time when the country is buckling under unprecedented US sanctions imposed since the Trump administration pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers last year. It is unclear to what extent the government can enforce hijab compliance amid an economic malaise, including a currency collapse and rising housing prices.
There is anecdotal evidence that more women are pushing back against the dress code, trying to redefine red lines as they test the response of the ruling Shiite Muslim clergy and their security agencies. The struggle against compulsory headscarves first made headlines in December 2017 when a woman climbed on a utility box in Tehran’s Revolution Street, waving her hijab on a stick.
More than three dozen protesters have been detained since, including nine who are currently in detention, said Alinejad. Despite attempts to silence protesters, public debate has intensified, amplified by social media. Last month, a widely watched online video showed a security agent grab an unveiled teenage girl and violently push her into the back of a police car, prompting widespread criticism.
President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have supported a softer attitude towards women who do not comply with the official dress code. However, hardliners opposed to such easing have become more influential as the nuclear deal is faltering. They have called for harsh punishment, even lashes, arguing that allowing women to show their hair leads to moral decay and the disintegration of families.
The judiciary recently urged Iranians to inform on women without hijabs by sending photos and videos to designated social media accounts.