The Iranian parliament has approved a controversial hijab bill aimed at tightening pressure on women who defy the mandatory dress code in public.
On Wednesday, Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf announced that the bill was approved for a "three-year trial run" following coordination and a written confirmation by the judiciary.
The contentious bill's content was finalized by a committee of approximately 10 lawmakers making the best use of an obscure regulation known as Article 85. The only aspect voted upon was the duration for the trial implementation. During the Wednesday session, 152 MPs voted in favor, 34 voted against, and seven abstained.
Article 85 of the constitution enabled the parliament to effectively sideline opposition by restricting discussions on the bill to an internal committee. Under normal circumstances, the parliament cannot delegate its legislative authority. However, in necessary cases -- through Article 85 -- it can assign an internal committee to draft specific laws. The committee's decisions are then sent to the Guardian Council, whose members are chosen by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. If the council deems the decisions to be in line with the Constitution, they can be implemented in the country for a specified period as determined by the parliament.
Initially comprising only 15 articles, the "Hijab and Chastity" bill was sent to the Islamic Consultative Assembly by the administration of Ebrahim Raisi. It has since expanded to include 70 articles. The bill was proposed after months of nationwide protests following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody last year, allegedly for breaching hijab rules.
The bill outlines a wide range of punishments and penalties for individuals who defy hijab laws or even criticize compulsory hijab rules, whether online or offline. Even mocking the hijab on social media or elsewhere is subject to specific fines, and offenders may face a ban on leaving the country for up to two years. Additionally, various organizations, including the state broadcaster, are mandated to regularly report on their "duties" related to hijab enforcement to the parliament, interior ministry, or the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.
The approval of the legislation comes amid mounting concerns raised by human rights experts and organizations who argue that the Islamic Republic is employing the bill as a tool for systematic discrimination against women and girls, with the aim of coercing them into unwavering compliance with the government's dictates.
Legal experts say the hijab bill violates not only civil rights but also the Constitution and requires vast resources beyond the government’s means.
Human rights advocates have warned that the bill's implementation could lead to “increased violence, harassment, and arbitrary detentions of women and girls in Iran.” Both the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the UN's Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran have issued statements this month expressing their concerns over the potential consequences of this bill on the rights and freedoms of Iranian women.
“The legislation proposes increased fines and prison terms for women and girls found in breach of mandatory veiling provisions. It also proposes harsher punishments including travel bans, vehicle confiscations, the denial of education and public services, including medical facilities, and sanctions against businesses,” read the statement by the fact-finding mission.
The uprising sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini in September 2022 has made it increasingly difficult for the clerical regime to enforce the mandatory Islamic dress code. Since the beginning of the ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ movement, tens of thousands of girls and women have shed their compulsory hijab. The regime seeks to criminalize hijab defiance, but no branch of government wants to solely shoulder the responsibility for complications of such a provocative and risky action in society.