Amnesty International: Iran’s Hijab Enforcement

Iran has doubled down on hijab enforcement and policing women since protests erupted in fall 2022, Amnesty International reported on July 26, 2023. Demonstrations had lulled by early 2023. But between April and July, “authorities…waged an intensified nationwide crackdown on women and girls who choose not to wear headscarves in public,” the rights group said. The trend reflected the hardline regime’s commitment to the mandatory Islamic dress code despite widespread discontent.

Government measures included redeploying the morality police, a law enforcement patrol responsible for enforcing the strict dress code, in mid-July. The organization had largely disappeared after it detained Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman who died in detention for “improper hijab” in September 2022. Tactics also ranged from using facial recognition to send text warnings to women who did not wear the mandatory headscarf, to imposing “degrading” punishments such as washing corpses and cleaning government buildings.

Parliament was also considering a “Bill to Support the Culture of Chastity and Hijab.” Amnesty warned that the legislation would “further entrench discrimination, deprive women and girls…of their human rights,” and “place them and those supporting the right of women…at risk of lengthy prison sentences, flogging, travel bans and other harsh penalties.”

Amnesty called on the international community to “stand with women and girls in Iran by urging the Iranian authorities to immediately abolish compulsory veiling.” It also demanded that Tehran drop charges against women who violated the dress code and refrain from punishing women for doing so. The rights group called on countries to use “legal pathways to hold Iranian officials accountable for ordering, planning and committing widespread and systematic human rights violations against women and girls” rather than solely issuing statements and utilizing diplomatic interventions. The following is an excerpt from the Amnesty report.



The Iranian authorities are doubling down their oppressive methods of policing and punishing women and girls to quell widespread defiance of degrading and discriminatory compulsory veiling laws since the popular “Woman. Life. Freedom” uprising in September 2022, severely violating their social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights and restricting their freedom of movement.

Since April 2023, the authorities have waged an intensified nationwide crackdown on women and girls who choose not to wear headscarves in public. In the latest escalation on 16 July 2023, the spokesperson of the police, Saeed MontazerAlmahdi, announced the return of police car and foot patrols enforcing compulsory veiling across the country, warning that legal action will be taken against women and girls “who insist on breaking the norms” and threatening that they will be “referred to the judiciary”. The announcement coincided with disturbing reports and videos circulating on social media of security forces violently assaulting women in the capital Tehran and the city of Rasht, Gilan province, while attempting to arrest them and throw them into police vans, as well as firing teargas into crowds of people helping three women escape arrests in Rasht.

Recent official announcements reveal that more than a million women have received SMS warnings threatening that their vehicles will be confiscated if they are found travelling in a car while unveiled, with thousands of these threats having been executed. Additionally, hundreds of businesses have been forcibly closed for refusing to enforce compulsory veiling laws. Countless women have experienced denial of access to education, banking services and public transport. Courts have also imposed degrading punishments on women convicted of violating compulsory veiling laws, which have included attending counselling sessions for “anti-social behaviour”, washing corpses, and providing cleaning services at governmental buildings. The authorities have also proposed draconian legislation, such as the “Bill to Support the Culture of Chastity and Hijab”, which will further entrench discrimination, deprive women and girls who choose not to wear headscarves of their human rights, including social and economic rights, and will place them and those supporting the right of women to choose how to dress at risk of lengthy prison sentences, flogging, travel bans and other harsh penalties.

Amnesty International has reviewed the draft text of the aforementioned bill, as published by state media outlets in late May 2022, as well as official statements by Iranian authorities about the bill and the enforcement of compulsory veiling. The organization also spoke with two women in Esfahan province who were forced to immobilize their cars for removing their headscarves while driving and risk further punishments for not complying with compulsory veiling laws. The organization reviewed screenshots of SMS messages the two women received from the police, notifying them that they had been observed not complying with compulsory veiling laws in public and threatening them with fines, confiscation of their vehicles and prosecution. The organization also reviewed three court verdicts against women convicted of breaching compulsory veiling laws, issued in June and July 2023. Additionally, Amnesty International examined media articles and public statements from lawyers reporting on the details of verdicts issued in June and July 2023 against three other women.

Amnesty International calls on the international community to stand with women and girls in Iran by urging the Iranian authorities to immediately abolish compulsory veiling; quash the convictions and sentences issued and drop all charges brought against women for defying compulsory veiling; release anyone in detention for defying compulsory veiling unconditionally; and abandon any plans to further punish women and girls for exercising their rights to equality, privacy, and freedom of expression, religion and belief. All Iranian officials involved in violating women’s rights through implementation of compulsory veiling should be held accountable.

States’ response should not be limited to forceful public statements and diplomatic interventions, but also involve the pursuit of legal pathways to hold Iranian officials accountable for ordering, planning and committing widespread and systematic human rights violations against women and girls through the implementation of compulsory veiling. All states must also ensure that those fleeing persecution and serious human rights violations in Iran – including women and girls - are provided with access to fair and effective asylum procedures, and not forcibly returned to Iran.



Since April 2023, authorities at the national, provincial and municipal levels have announced and implemented a plethora of repressive measures to punish women and girls for defying compulsory veiling laws. Amid the intensified crackdown, women and girls in Iran have also been subjected to a spate of hateful statements by officials and state media outlets. These statements often refer to the defiance of women and girls against compulsory veiling as a “virus”, “social illness” or a “new deadly form of coronavirus” to be eliminated or equate the choice not to wear a headscarf with “sexual depravity” or various “mental disorders” in need of “treatment”, including “anti-social personality disorder”, “histrionic disorder” or “bipolar disorder”.

On 8 April 2023, Ahmadreza Radan, Iran’s Chief of Police, stated that, as of 15 April 2023, a threefold approach would be implemented to crack down on women and girls who defy compulsory veiling. The first aspect of the “hijab and chastity project” involves the utilization of facial recognition technology to identify and report to the judiciary women and girl pedestrians who choose not to wear a headscarf in public. Facial recognition for identification is a technology of mass surveillance by design, which violates the rights to privacy, equality and non-discrimination. Not only is facial recognition technology is known for higher rates of inaccuracy among women and racialized communities but has been documented time and time again to have been deployed against historically marginalised communities. It also has a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly by deterring people from protesting, often exacerbating a climate of fear and repression. The second aspect announced by the chief of police involves the use of digital technology to identify women who choose not to wear a headscarf while travelling in a car and promptly issue an initial SMS warning to them. In the event of “repetition”, a second SMS is issued requiring women to immobilize their car for 15 days or face confiscation of their vehicle. Upon the third occurrence, the authorities will authorize the physical confiscation of women’s cars. The third aspect targets businesses where women and girls are found to be violating compulsory veiling. As per official announcements, such businesses will receive a “firm warning” and, in case of repetition, they will be forcibly closed.

On 14 June 2023, the spokesperson of the police, Saeed Montazer-Almahdi, announced that since the measures were applied, the police had sent almost one million SMS warning messages to women captured without a headscarf in their cars, issued 133,174 SMS messages requiring the immobilization of vehicles for two weeks, confiscated 2,000 cars, and referred more than 4,000 “repeat offenders” to the judiciary nationwide. Saeed Montazer-Almahdi added that 108,211 reports had been gathered about the commission of “offences” at businesses premises, and that 300 “offenders” had been identified and referred to the judiciary.

On 23 June 2023, the head of the justice department in Esfahan province, Asadollah Jafari, announced that 1,200 judicial cases had been filed against women defying compulsory veiling in the province. Two days earlier, on 15 July 2023, the prosecutor of Qazvin province, Hossein Rajabi, stated that, since the beginning of the implementation of the chastity and hijab project announced by Iran’s police force, judicial cases had been filed against 173 “people who are exposed and have disturbed social order” in the province. The prosecutor of Qazvin province added that the identification of women defying compulsory veiling was being carried out by the Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence.

On 14 June 2023, Iranian state media released a video that showed security agents intimidating and filming women and girls who appear in public without covering their hair. The video purports to show gathered biographical information about the “offenders” appearing in the footage.

Official statements and independent media and human rights reports indicate that the authorities have shut down hundreds of tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants, pharmacies and shopping centres for not enforcing compulsory veiling laws.

According to reports by independent media outlets and human rights groups outside Iran, the intensified crackdown has led to multiple incidents where women and girls have been denied access to public transport and banking services, barred from sitting final exams or suspended or expelled from universities in reprisal for not covering their hair in public. These violations have occurred pursuant to regulations adopted by state institutions at national, provincial and municipal levels to prevent women and girls who do not wear headscarves from accessing public services. Some of these regulations have been publicly announced while others were marked as confidential but have been leaked.

On 3 April 2023, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology issued statements noting that schools and universities will not offer educational services to students who do not observe Islamic dress codes.

On 18 April 2023, during a session with the parliamentary committee for internal affairs and councils, Iran’s Minister of Interior, Ahmad Vahidi, presented a report on the implementation of the “hijab and chastity project” by Iran’s police force, which works under his direction. The head of the parliamentary committee for internal affairs and councils, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, reported that during the session, Ahmad Vahidi indicated that under the “hijab and chastity plan”, women who persist in defying compulsory veiling will be denied access to social services. Mohammad Saleh Jokar added that following the minister’s presentation, members of the parliamentary committee expressed their support of the measures taken by the police.

On 27 April 2023, the mayor of Tehran, Alireza Zakani, introduced a “hijab and chastity plan” for the municipality, which relies on a special municipal security force (yegan-e hefazat-e shahrdari) to deny women and girls who do not wear headscarves entry into the metro system.

On 4 June 2023, Iran International, an independent media outlet based outside Iran, published leaked documents marked as “confidential”, which revealed that on 13 April 2023, authorities in Golestan province passed a resolution banning the provision of social services to women who choose not to wear headscarves in public. Furthermore, the leaked documents disclosed that on 1 May 2023, senior officials overseeing the provincial banking system issued instructions to the management of major banks mandating the enforcement of the ban on providing banking services to women who do not wear headscarves in public.

On 18 July 2023, the Deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mohammad Hashemi, stated in a media interview that “veiling is our red line and, in this relation, we do not compromise with anyone.” Mohammad Hashemi revealed that authorities had issued warnings to around a thousand artists who had engaged in “illegal conduct” and imposed various restrictions on the professional activities of more than 300 artists who had persisted with their conduct, including unveiling. Mohammad Hashemi said that as a result, some actors or artists no longer have permission to work.



On 15 July 2023, a disturbing video went viral on social media that showed a woman plainclothes agent, dressed in a black chador, harassing and assaulting an unveiled woman in Tehran, pushing her against a wall and attempting to violently arrest her and take her into a van.

The next day, the spokesperson of the police, Saeed Montazer-Almahdi, announced the return of police car and foot patrols enforcing compulsory veiling across the country, warning that legal action will be taken against women and girls “who insist on breaking the norms” and threatening that they will be “referred to the judiciary”. Saeed Montazer-Almahdi indicated that the reinstatement of patrols was pursuant to “public demands, the positions of various social groups and entities, and the emphasis of the president [Ebrahim Raisi] and the head of the judiciary [Gholamhossein Mohseni-Eje’i].”

The day following the announcement, 17 July 2023, disturbing reports and videos circulated on social media showing security forces firing teargas into crowds of people in Rasht, Gilan province, who tried to help three women escape arrest for defying compulsory veiling.

Since then, members of the public in Iran have reported on their social media accounts and to independent media outside Iran the re-emergence of the “morality” police, formally known as “Guidance Patrol” (Gasht-e Ershad), in streets of various cities across the country, patrolling public areas to confront, warn and/or arrest women and girls defying compulsory veiling. Videos and eyewitness accounts from inside the country indicate that the “morality” police have returned with its vans once again stationed in busy public places, accompanied by a mix of chador-clad female agents, male plainclothes agents, and police officials in uniforms. However, these vans do not have “Guidance Patrol” (Gasht-e Ershad) written on them and are completely white, unlike the previously used white vans with green stipes. Videos circulating on social media indicate that in some places, the official vehicles of the Law Enforcement Command of Iran (known by its Persian acronym FARAJA), which are green and white in colour, have also been deployed for “morality” policing.

The Guidance Patrol is a special police unit of FARAJA, which was established in 2005 with the task of arresting women who violate Iran’s strict Islamic dress code. The Guidance Patrol was preceded by entities that served the same functions, but had different names, including the Patrol for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Gasht-e amr-e be marouf and nahi az monkar) and the Patrol of the Islamic Revolution Committee (Gasht-e komit-e Enqelab-e Islami), operating in the 1990s and 1980s.

On 17 July 2023, Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, reported that according to information obtained from senior FARAJA commanders, the return of the Guidance Patrol was based on directions from Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, and the head of the judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Eje’i. However, Tasnim News Agency removed the report from its website just hours later, stating that the outlet had been “contacted by some people in government” raising concerns about the segment of the report that stated the return of the patrols was pursuant to “an order from Ebrahim Raisi”.

The same day, Tasnim News Agency published another piece which claimed, citing senior FARAJA commanders, that “the vans of the Guidance Patrol will not return to the streets, and no vehicle with ‘Guidance Patrol’ written on the sides will be seen in the streets.” The article added, “based on this, if in the future, a video is published showing the presence of “vans” in the streets or incidents of people being forced into these vehicles, [such footage] is either fabricated or old.” Despite all these claims aimed at countering shockwaves triggered by the announced return of the morality police, the article acknowledged that police patrols are being deployed for enforcing compulsory veiling laws. Tasnim News Agency described these patrols as ordinary “car and foot police patrols, seen by people in the street before, which would, in addition to all their previous duties, verbally warn individuals if they witness instances of abnormal dress.”

Amidst official attempts to obfuscate the truth by narrowing the focus of attention on the removal of the “Guidance Patrol” insignia from patrol vans, the office of President Ebrahim Raisi has sought to distance the president from any responsibility for the police patrols. On 17 July 2023, the spokesperson for the government, Ali Bahadori Jahromi, posted a vague statement on Twitter, distancing the president from responsibility for the reinstatement of the “morality” police, stating that “faced with social anomalies”, the president had merely asked the police force and judiciary to “regulate affairs within the framework of existing laws,” adding that it is the “responsibility of the judiciary and officers to devise the law enforcement method”. Two days later, on 19 July 2023, the vice president for Women and Family Affairs, Ansieh Khazali, also denied claims that the police car patrols were ordered by the president and said that the matter should be followed up with Ministry of Interior officials. The Ministry of Interior in Iran presides over the work of FARAJA.

On 23 July 2023, a member of the parliamentary national security and foreign policy committee, Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi, said in a media interview, “The fact that no one is willing to take responsibility for the Guidance Patrol indicates that this policy is not correct, as a correct policy garners support. Now, neither the government, the judiciary, the police nor others are willing to accept it [responsibility] and this means that the Guidance Patrol lacks a rational basis.” He confirmed reports about widespread deployment of police vans and officials in the streets in the wake of latest developments, stating: “Yesterday [22 July] I went with my family to one of the squares in the city [Tehran]. There was such an extensive presence of police forces and cars that it caused difficulties for the movement of people and cars.”

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