Nine former politicians and civil activists in Iran have demanded the abolition of compulsory hijab, calling it “double suppression” of women.

“The Islamic regime has resorted to hijab to double its discrimination against women in an era when human equality, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, creed and religion, plays a pivotal role in progressive human discourse,” a statement published Monday by Zeitoun news website said.

“The cruel and violent measures to enforce the mandatory hijab have been disastrous not only for women, but also for their fathers, husbands, and brothers. In other words, Iranian men have also found it difficult to bear so much oppression of women,” said the statement six of the signatories of which are also prominent political and intellectual figures.

Most of the signatories, including prominent female Islamic scholar Sedigheh Vasmaghi, are known as “religious intellectuals” in Iranian politics, meaning they advocate a moderate view of Islam. 

Vasmaghi, 63, recently removed her veil after decades and even challenged Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s hijab edict, arguing that there is no foundation in the Quran or the Sharia for such an edict.

Zahra Rahnavard, one of the leaders of Iran's Green Movement, is also among the signatories of the statement. Rahnavard and her husband Mir-Hossein Mousavi have been under house arrest since 2011. The seventy- eight-year-old academic and artist chose to wear the hijab before the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and has still held on to it. Mousavi was prime minister in the early years of the Islamic Republic and both were committed supporters of the regime.

Prominent human rights lawyer and Sakharov Prize winner Nasrin Sotoudeh, 60, however, has for years fought against the compulsory hijab and defended other women who were prosecuted for protesting the mandatory hijab.

The statement also criticizes the regime for denying civil and human rights such as the right to work, study, benefit from social rights and services such as healthcare for not abiding by the hijab rules.

“These extreme beliefs and methods have imposed heavy costs on the country, particularly on Iranian women and girls, and caused the shedding of the blood of the likes of Mahsa and Armita,” the statement said.

The death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini, 22, in September 2020 in the custody of morality police resulting from injuries she sustained during her arrest for what the authorities called “inadequate hijab” sparked widespread protests across Iran that went on for months and were heavily suppressed by the government.

Tens of thousands were arrested during the protests, at least 550 protesters including 68 children were killed, and thousands including hundreds that lost their eyes to birdshot bullets fired directly in their faces by security forces, sustained very serious injuries.

Armita Geravand, 16, who sustained a head injury after allegedly being assaulted by hijab enforcers in a metro car in Tehran also fell to the same fate after a month-long coma on October 28.

Fearing another round of protests, authorities forced Armita’s family to bury her as discreetly as possible. Nevertheless, dozens including Sotoudeh and Vasmaghi, two of the signatories of the present statement, attended the burial at Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra.

Sotoudeh who had previously called Armita’s death a “state killing’ and attended the funeral without a headscarf in defiance of the regime was detained, and Vasmaghi was assaulted by four agents but was reportedly rescued by other people at the scene. 

In a commentary entitled “Lesson Taught By the Trumpeter Sadegh” published by the reformist Etemad newspaper last week, reformist commentator Abbas Abdi warned the regime that insisting on imposing hijab by all means including violence would only cause a massive negative reaction from the public.

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