Some women's rights activists on Monday staged flash mobs in Tehran to demand information on the whereabouts of a woman arrested for defying forced hijab.
The women also protested government policies encouraging higher birth rates and limiting family planning.
Images of the flash mobs were shared on social media. The photos showed small groups of women who had covered their faces with placards to hide their identities in several areas of the capital Tehran.
“Where is Sepideh Rashno?” some of the placards the activists carried asked. Rashno is a 28-year-old artist, writer and editor and anti-hijab protester, whose ‘forced confessions’ were aired on state-run television on July 31. Many believe she was tortured and forced to denounce herself and other activists.
“Torture and forced confessions will not stop women’s movement,” another placard read.
She has reportedly been in detention at the IRGC ward of Tehran’s Evin Prison since her arrest on July 16 after a video of her quarrel with a woman enforcing hijab rules went viral on social media. She has not had any contact with her family or access to a lawyer since her arrest except for a short phone call.
Iran’s Supreme Leader claimed Wednesday that the anti-hijab movement is nothing but a Western plot, much like his depiction of all problems as plots by enemies.
On July 12, following a call by women’s rights activists for civil disobedience with the hashtag ‘No2Hijab’ social media exploded with dozens of videos and photo of women unveiling in public.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a speech in late July claimed that wearing the hijab is no impediment to Iranian women’s progress and accused the West of fueling the recent opposition to hijab to harm the regime without referring two women civil disobedience.
The government which is now fully controlled by hardliners has adopted a harsher than usual approach on hijab, amid economic crisis and hardship for tens of millions. Government and military officials have warned the population against disobeying hijab rules.
In the past few months, the morality police hijab enforcement patrols have detained many women, sometimes violently, on the streets and shut down shops, coffee shops and restaurants for not forcing their customers to comply with hijab rules.
In their flash mob action, activists also protested the government's population and family planning policies including a ban on contraceptives, vasectomy and tubectomy, and pre-natal screening for genetic abnormalities and congenital diseases.
“No to forced childbearing”, “A poverty stricken society needs welfare, not more children”, “Ending free pre-natal screening is violence against women”, and “Contraceptives must be provided to women for free and with no hassle”, other placards read.
Government family planning programs – including free contraceptives and vasectomies at governmental healthcare facilities opened in the 1980s – were gradually abandoned over the past ten years with those defending family planning dubbed enemy "infiltrators."
Iran's population has doubled from around 40 million in the early 1980s to 84 million now, but Khamenei has repeatedly stressed that it should rise to at least 150 million to avoid having an elderly population.
A new legislation designed to boost population growth passed by parliament in March outlawed tubectomy, vasectomy, and the free dispensation of contraceptives other than where pregnancy would threaten a woman's health. The health ministry has instructed family health clinics to advise women over-35 to wait only a year before again becoming pregnant and under-35s to wait six months.
While the new law does not include a ban on pre-natal screening, doctors have been advised not to encourage it.