Tehran police have reportedly arrested 29 people, mostly women, for appearing in public without a hijab (head covering), according to Iranian media. Women have increasingly taken to street corners and squares by themselves or in small groups to protest the modest dress code imposed after the 1979 revolution. Chief prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri has downplayed the protests, suggesting they were “trivial” and “childish” and possibly instigated by foreigners.
Vida Mohaved, a 31-year-old mother, defiantly waved her white hijab from the end of a pole on December 27 and was arrested. The video of her protest inspired others to protest and to take part in #WhiteWednesdays, a social media campaign started by journalist and activist Masih Alinejad. Women in Iran have worn white hijabs on Wednesdays to advocate for their right to choose their clothing. Alinejad also started the My Stealthy Freedom campaign in 2014. Hundreds of women flaunted the dress code by posting pictures of themselves on social media without a veil.
In late December, Tehran’s police announced that they would no longer arrest women for dress code violations. But the recent arrests have called the new policy into question. During Mohaved’s detention, she became known as “the girl of Enghelab Street” on social media. Many people posted videos asking about her whereabouts.
Where is the girl who was waving a white flag on Enghelab (Revolution) Avenue? I call her the Revolution's girl. She lives in our hearts. Iranians and the world are with her. We will not stop asking about her until she is released.#Where_Is_She#WhiteWednesdays pic.twitter.com/Vxo6u0Sopj— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) January 24, 2018
Amnesty International called attention to her case. Mohaved was reportedly released on January 28. Another young woman, however, was arrested the following day for protesting. Narges Hosseini refused to appear in court to face charges punishable by up to 10 years in prison for “encouraging immorality or prostitution.” The judge presiding over her case set bail at $135,000.
On February 2, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert issued a statement in support of the protests:
The United States supports the Iranian people who are protesting against women being forced to wear the hijab. We condemn the reported arrests of at least 29 individuals for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms by standing up against the compulsory hijab. The United States remains steadfast in our support for the rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly. People should be free to choose the clothes they wear, and practice their faith as they desire. Depriving individuals of this choice undermines their autonomy and dignity.
On February 4, President Hassan Rouhani’s office seemed to weigh into the debate by releasing a three-year-old report showing that nearly half of Iranians thought the hijab is a private matter and that the government should not have a say in it. The timing of the release suggests that the president supports reform on the issue.
The latest protests follow widespread demonstrations that broke out in late December 2017 over economic hardships and corruption. Those demonstrations took on an anti-government tone as they spread to some 80 cities. More than 4,500 had been detained but only 438 remained in prison by the end of January, according to lawmaker who visited Evin Prison. At least 21 were reportedly killed in clashes. In raids across the country on February 1, six activists were reportedly arrested for their involvement in those protests. The following is a selection of photos and videos from demonstrations against the official dress code.
Our civil disobedience is spreading like wildfire. Freedom of choice is our right and we will not keep silent until we get this right. Everyone should get used to the exercise of our right. #WhiteWednesdays pic.twitter.com/d9HgO77kCv— My Stealthy Freedom (@masihpooyan) January 30, 2018
Report: today Police arrest women partaking in anti-hijab campaign here these mothers taking the street to protest compulsory hijab. #GirlsofRevolutionStreet #WhiteWednesdays #WhereIsShe pic.twitter.com/Slj1AddFOH— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) February 1, 2018
There are many conservative women who willingly wear the chador supporting our movement. Like this chador-clad woman who went on an electricity plinth to oppose compulsory veil. She is showing her support for her unveiled sisters #WhiteWednesdays pic.twitter.com/D9mWU8MIk6— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) January 31, 2018
From our follower: "We will not wait for the existing rules to be reformed slowly. We will put an end to this compulsory hijab law ourselves. Watch me walk unveiled in a shopping centre today. Let's respect each other." #WhiteWednesdays pic.twitter.com/PHbo9ge3f2— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) January 31, 2018
A beautiful message from this bed-bound grandmother: " I salute you my daughter. I have to live with an oxygen tank. At the age of 91, I support Iranian women's fight for freedom of choice. Wishing you victory in your fight"#WhiteWednesdays pic.twitter.com/o4oAZq6QWo— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) January 31, 2018
I am a man and I am dressed in white from head to toe. I support my sisters in their struggle against compulsory veil. I am also inquiring about that girl waving a white flag on Enghelab Avenue. #Where_Is_She?#WhiteWednesdays pic.twitter.com/2mPHiqiBfK— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) January 24, 2018
Iranian MP reacts to the women #GirlsofRevolutionStreet in Iran who have been taking their headscarves off in public to protest forced hijab, and to the discrimination they suffer in all walks of life as women in the Islamic Republic. pic.twitter.com/tPkYZRBdXw— IranHumanRights.org (@ICHRI) February 2, 2018
Tehran today (Rasht Avenue). The acts of defiance against compulsory hijab in public are multiplying. These two girls stood in public waving their compulsory hijab in the form of a flag. Bravery is contagious.#WhiteWednesdays #دختران_خیابان_انقلاب pic.twitter.com/ZYb5ikpGi6— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) January 30, 2018
Men in Iran are now waving a white flag in support of women's freedom of choice. They are empathizing with women in their fight against compulsory hijab. #WhiteWednesdays #زنان_خیابان_انقلاب pic.twitter.com/qWUTPpM5DL— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) January 30, 2018
This revolutionary woman, removed her veil in front of police station fighting to get back her impounded car— My Stealthy Freedom (@masihpooyan) January 24, 2018
There're many other brave women in Iran. See how bravely she is protesting in front of the police station unveiled.#WhiteWednesdays #چهارشنبه_های_سفید #Where_Is_She pic.twitter.com/ZPq9cfIGva
Her name is Shima Babaei who joined #WhiteWednesdays campaign protesting compulsory hijab. she was arrested yesterday. She was the one toke off her hijab in front of the court to say #NoForcedHijab#FreeShimaBabaeei— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) February 2, 2018
##FreeHijabProtesters #معترضان_حجاب_اجبارى_را_آزاد_كنيد pic.twitter.com/35OCqzkD9Z
Listen to this girl who went up on a plinth in public unveiled to protest against compulsory veil in Shiraz today. In this video that she sent to #WhiteWednesdays campaign, she says passers-by were very supportive of her and they saved her from the police after her protest. pic.twitter.com/KIZHcZZMq1— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) January 31, 2018
This is how Iranians react to the arrest of 29 Hijab prospers. We take their flag out everywhere and shouting louder; #FreeHijabProtesters #FreeGirlsOfRevolutionSt— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) February 2, 2018
بازداشت ٢٩ معترض حجاب اجباري و ادامه اعتراضات#معترضان_حجاب_اجبارى_را_آزاد_كنيد #دختر_خیابان_انقلاب pic.twitter.com/ZU9qBPVcTT
I am a veiled woman and I wear the veil willingly. Yet, I am against compulsory veil. I am waving this flag outside in support of my sisters who do not want to wear the veil. I support their freedom of choice. #WhiteWednesdays ; #GirlsOfRevolutionStreet pic.twitter.com/OfyM2JNKLg— masih alinejad (@AlinejadMasih) February 7, 2018