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‘Your car will be confiscated’: Iranian women boldly defy hijab law despite threats

In April, the national police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, introduced a “smart” program using surveillance cameras to identify women who do not comply with the hijab law, which mandates covering their hair and wearing loose-fitting clothing in public. The violation can result in fines or imprisonment.

Radan warned that repeat offenders would face court referrals, cars with uncovered female passengers would be seized, and businesses ignoring the law would be shut down.

However, his announcement sparked a wave of humorous reactions on social media, with women sharing photos and videos of themselves publicly without the hijab, expressing their defiance.

‘Not very accurate’

In a new development, authorities have issued warnings to individuals regarding dress code violations captured by traffic control cameras, potentially leading to car confiscation and fines. While reports of such warnings have circulated for years, this is the first time that authorities have explicitly threatened these consequences.

“I received an SMS over a month ago, specifically mentioning my license plate number, following a road trip to Damghan with my female friends. We were often not wearing the hijab inside the car,” shared one woman with the BBC.

Similar messages have been received by others, cautioning them that their vehicles may be seized if they are seen in public without the hijab. The messages also provide a website link for individuals to contest the alleged violation.

One man said he was sent a message that listed his car’s licence plate and a location where he had driven on a particular day, “except I was not with a woman at that time and place”.

“I was on my own. Their cameras are not very accurate,” he added.

The man, who did not want to be identified, sent a photo to the BBC showing that he had long hair.

Men have also reported that following April’s announcement they received an apparently indiscriminate message from the police saying: “Dear citizen, it is necessary to respect and comply with the law of the hijab.”

They poked fun at the move, with one man writing on Instagram: “Is this how smart your technology is?”

Some lawyers have argued that this new move by the police and the judiciary is illegal.

“The confiscation of cars because of a lack of hijab has no legal basis in the constitution and is a crime,” Mohsen Borhani wrote on Twitter. The judiciary responded by reiterating that “taking off the hijab in public is a crime”.

‘We haven’t forgotten

Undeterred by the heightened risks of punishment, women remain steadfast in their fight against the obligatory hijab, expressing their unwavering determination.

“Too many young lives have been lost in the past few months for us to go back to how things were before,” said one young woman in the city of Semnan.

She was alluding to the brutal crackdown on the protests sparked by the tragic death of Mahsa Amini while in custody last September. The 22-year-old had been arrested by morality police under the accusation of wearing her hijab “improperly”.

Since then, many women have burned their headscarves or waved them in the air during demonstrations to chants of “Woman, Life, Freedom”.

Almost nine months on, they are still fighting to abolish the system that controls their personal and public lives.

“This is an Islamic dictatorship, one of its main pillars is the oppression and control of women, that is why the fight against mandatory hijab is something that really shakes the core of this system,” a woman from Tehran told the BBC.

Another woman in the capital said: “I want to show that the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ movement is still alive and that we have not forgotten the death of Mahsa Amini.”

‘Women will not surrender’

A feminist activist, who has been arrested since the protests began but is out on bail, told the BBC: “From what I have seen in the past few months, women will not surrender. Women seem to be unfazed by these new threats.”

She also believed authorities had found themselves in a difficult situation.

“That’s why they have pushed the police forward in this fight, but they have not increased their jurisdiction or given them much power to fight against women.”

There is also opposition to the new policy from regime loyalists.

“To get the police involved in the issue of hijab will only widen the rift between the people and the state,” said Hossein Alaiee, a former high ranking Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) commander.

“We saw how the work of the morality police created a backlash and increased the number of women without hijab.”

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