Women Drivers Not Wearing Hijab Face Tough Police ActionPublished by International Liberty on November 21, 2015
Cars driven by women who do not observe the hijab (head covering for women) will be impounded and fines will be imposed, according to strict new regulations by Iran’s police force. In addition, “trusted invisible agents” will be reporting violations on behalf of the police.
The police announcement on November 15, 2015, warned that cars driven by “women who do not observe the hijab” will be impounded for a week and could be banned from being sold.
“From now on the police will deal firmly with drivers who break the norms, remove their hijab as they drive, show off recklessly, and parade up-and-down the streets,” Police Spokesman Saeed Montazer al-Mahdi was quoted by the official state Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
He added that in the latest clampdown, carried out “under a judicial order,” about 10,000 drivers had been issued warnings and case files opened for 2,000 cars.
According to Montazer al-Mahdi, “A number of civil and military officials as well as invisible agents” will write down the license plate numbers of cars driven by women without a hijab and report them to the police. The drivers of those cars will be summoned and the cars will be impounded “until their situation is clarified.”
It appears that the vagueness—and broadness—of “invisible agents,” which was not specified further, was intentional, meant to sow fear and intimidation and effectively empower anyone to report on an “improperly” clad woman.
The current crackdown on violations of conservative female dress follows the April 2015 passage of the Plan to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, which mandated Basij enforcement of strict hijab. The Basij are a volunteer militia force under the control of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The Plan was linked to a series of acid attacks against women in Isfahan in late 2014.
On November 11, 2015, Police Chief Hossein Ashtari issued a warning that his force would not tolerate women who drive without the hijab or create “sound pollution” (play loud music).
The toughening official stance on hijab comes amidst conservative outrage over the recent posting of photographs on Instagram by Iranian film and TV stars, Sadaf Taherian and Chakameh Chaman Mah, who posed without covering their hair.
It also takes place within the context of a broader and intensifying campaign by hardliners in Iran to assert their dominance in the post-nuclear deal environment, ensuring that the status quo—and their repressive grip on society—will be maintained.
In a November 11, 2015, interview with French television channel Europe 1, President Hassan Rouhani was asked about photographs from a popular Facebook page where Iranian women inside the country post images of themselves proudly removing their hijab. He replied, “We have so many issues so we don’t have time for these things. Everyone in Iran is free in their own private lives to do as they please. But when someone lives in Iran, they should abide by the laws of the country,” he said.
Since his June 2013 election, President Rouhani has rhetorically supported greater rights and freedoms for women in Iran generally, and has opposed stricter laws and regulations to impose the hijab on women, but such support has often been tepid and not followed by any concrete measures to ensure the realization of such rights and freedoms.