Iran's Hijab Protests

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.



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.