Iran’s hardliner President has ordered all government entities to strictly implement a “chastity and hijab” law after weeks of harsher measures on the streets.

In a meeting with officials on Wednesday Raisi called lack of compliance with hijab rules “an organized promotion of [moral] corruption in Islamic society.” Going a step further he said that this has been organized “by world arrogance”, a reference to the United States.

Harsher than usual enforcement of the Islamic dress code (hijab) this summer has raised protests from many in Iran including some moderate religious and political figures.

Raisi went on to put a further ideological spin on the issue: “The enemies of Iran and Islam using extensive satellite TV and social media networks have targeted society’s cultural backbone and foundations of its religious values.”

There is little evidence of any foreign conspiracy, except some Iranian activists in the West campaigning against compulsory hijab. One such activist in the United States was even reportedly targeted for kidnapping by Islamic Republic agents.

Street patrols by ‘hijab police’ or ‘chastity police’ have intensified in recent weeks with women with loose headscarves being subjected not only to verbal harassment but also physical force.

Some Iranian officials have recently issued strict orders for enforcing what they call proper hijab among female government employees and others by restricting service to those who do not abide by the prescribed rules.

The hijab required in the Islamic Republic consists of a long and loose dress in muted colors worn over trousers with a similarly plain headscarf that covers all hair and shoulders. Authorities including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei say wearing a long black veil (chador in Persian) that covers from head to toe is the ‘optimal hijab’.

Students at Tehran University protesting hijab crackdown. April 24, 2022

The headscarf version is acceptable in most places while the chador is a requirement in many government offices, higher education facilities, and meetings with high-ranking officials including Khamenei.

While most Iranian women wear the headscarf version of hijab, willingly or unwillingly, only a small minority willingly wear the chador.

In the jargon of religious and political hardliners women who are unwilling to wear the hijab and display their displeasure by wearing small and colorful headscarves with tight-fitting, short dresses are called ‘bad-hijab’ ones. Authorities sometimes take harsh measures against ‘bad-hijab’ women. Punishments include arrest, prison, cash fines, and even lashing but have not always been meted out to the same degree.

Esmail Rahmani, deputy public prosecutor of the religious city of Mashhad has recently ordered the municipality to prevent ‘bad-hijab’ women from using public transportation including the metro and threatened to take legal action against such officials for failing to do so. He has also ordered the governor to ban services in banks and government offices to ‘bad-hijab’ women.

The governor of Fars Province, Mohammad-Hadi Imanieh, has also issued an ultimatum to heads of government organizations to enforce the acceptable forms of hijab. Imanieh has said that government employees who are not willing to abide by the rules should take leave without pay and only return to work “when they can respect the law”.

Mohsen Borhani, a professor of law at Tehran University with a religious seminary education background, in a tweet Monday protested against enforcing the hijab through restricting service to ‘bad-hijab’ women. According to Iran’s own Islamic Penal Code, he argued restricting personal freedoms of citizens by any official of the government or state is punishable by law, he argued.

Sometimes authorities shift the burden of enforcement of hijab to businesses, such as food joints and cafes and shopping malls, to deny service to ‘bad-hijab’ women and shut down their businesses if they do not comply. This year pressure has increased on businesses.

Most Iranians, whether they are religious or not, do not agree with compulsory hijab while many view its enforcement by the state as a violation of human rights.

Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, a cleric who served as vice president under reformist Mohammad Khatami, called the crackdown for hijab “an insult to Iranian women and an insult to all of Iran” in a commentary carried by conservative Khabar Online news website Monday.

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