Iranian prosecutors opened a case against the reformist Etemad newspaper on Sunday for publishing an interior ministry document about enforcing hijab rules.

In a report about the deployment of hijab enforcers at Tehran’s subway stations, the newspaper referred to a controversial directive communicated by the interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi, to government bodies and organs, including Tehran Municipality and the Metro Company.

“Months ago, on May 30, the interior minister issued an illegal order [to government bodies] – classified as secret in violation of the law -- which affected thousands. They are dismayed now because Etemad newspaper has published only one page of that illegal directive,” prominent law expert Mohsen Borhani tweeted Sunday. 

The document which lists the steps to be taken to enforce hijab rules in “government-controlled places”, proves that the Vahidi’s claim that his ministry had nothing to do with deployment of hijab enforcers at subway stations was a lie.

Iran's Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi

A state official responsible for promoting religious social standards, Mohammad-Hossein Taheri-Akerdi, claimed on Saturday that there are over 2850 “revolutionary and jihadi forces” who carry out the religious duty of enforcing hijab “voluntarily”.

Vahidi’s directive authorizes the police, intelligence organization of the Revolutionary Guards (SAS), and the ministry of intelligence to photograph and film women who do not follow hijab rules in public, including at subway stations and inside metro cars. The evidence will be used for prosecution and intimidation of women to wear the hijab.

Only hours after the publication, Etemad newspaper was indicted by the Office of Prosecutor of Tehran, but the interior ministry has made no comments about the leaked directive.

“Tehran Prosecutor’s Office indicted Etemad newspaper yesterday, not for circulating lies, but for publishing a document that implied the falsehood of the interior minister and Tehran mayor’s statements over the past week,” an article on the frontpage of Tose’e Irani, another opposition newspaper said Monday.

Vahidi and Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani denied the involvement of their organizations in the deployment of hijab enforcers at Tehran Subway stations and tunnels.

The denials came after a photo went viral on social media that showed women in black-veil uniforms forming a “tunnel” in subway corridors to enforce hijab. These have come to be referred to as “horror tunnels” across the media and social media. Cameramen who take footage of the female passengers accompany the hijab enforcement teams.

Not only officials have denied any involvement in organizing the hijab teams, but they have claimed these are “spontaneous citizens’ groups” enforcing hijab as a religious duty.

Experts say the contents of the directive do not warrant it to be classified and the indictment of Etemad newspaper, therefore, lacks any legal foundations. 

Citing articles 4 and 11 of the Information and Free Access to Information Act of 2015, prominent journalist and former politician Abbas Abdi argued in a commentary in Etemad newspaper Monday that decisions that involve public rights or duties cannot be classified.

Article 4 of the said act, Abdi added, stipulates that prosecution of a crime such as publication of a classified document requires the ministry or organization to which the document belonged to initiate a legal complaint, but the interior ministry has not sued Etemad.

“The public prosecutor is a defender of the public’s rights, not the government’s [position],” Milad Alavi, a law student and reporter of the reformist Shargh Daily, tweeted while underlining that it is the interior minister who must be prosecuted for breaking the law of freedom of access to information. 

Abdi and others have also challenged the interior ministry and Tehran municipality’s claim that hijab enforcers in uniform and cameramen are “citizens’ groups” because in Iran official permits are required for any public activity including forming citizens’ groups and NGOs.

More News