Brave Iranian women biking against the ban

On the 10th of September, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a “fatwa” (a religious decree which is law) forbidding women to ride bikes in public places for fear that they would attract “the attention of men and exposes the society to corruption”. Bicycles, he continued, “contravenes women’s chastity, and it must be abandoned”. His fatwa followed a declaration one week earlier in which he defined the “role and mission” of Iranian women as “motherhood and housekeeping”. In the process, once again, the regime in Tehran is finding new ways of turning its citizens into criminals.

The need to issue such a fatwa rose since women riding bike in public was considered a “sin” but there isn’t a law in the Iranian penal code regarding women on bikes. The issue of women on bicycles has been buzzing in Iran since around May when authorities began placing signs in parks which stated that “bicycle riding for women is prohibited in this place, women are set to ride at the women’s park”. Nobody really took notice until, July 26th, when security agents detained a group of women who had organized a cycling event, the Lake Bike Riders, to increase awareness to the ravages on the environment and to encourage citizens to forego the use of cars at least one day a week (Carless Tuesday). The women cyclists were taken to the police station to sign a “pledge” to never ride bicycles in public before they were released.

The absurdity of the fatwa and its oppressing effect on women, their health and the environment began attracting a lot of attention in Iran and the world but some (very) brave Iranian women have decided to take their protest to the next level. In cooperation with My Stealthy Freedom, a community on Facebook for women who try to enjoy their “stealthy freedom” by sharing pictures of themselves defying the oppressive regime by not wearing hijabs, Iranian women began uploading pictures and videos of themselves biking despite the ban – #IranianWomenLoveCycling. Masih Alinejad, the Iranian journalist and administrator of My Stealthy Freedom is sure that women who are willing to share their moments of stealthy freedom are the key for change in Iran: “Women in Iran want to be active in society but for the clerics that’s the big threat because in their (the regime’s) eyes, women should not be seen nor heard, stuck in the kitchen…women are the main agents of change”.

It’s hard for some people to understand just how brave these women who are sharing their pictures and videos on bikes really are. Men and women are sent to jail and even executed for “insulting the Supreme Leader” and protesting Khamenei’s fatwa is a huge risk. But that’s exactly the point: these women are willing to risk their freedom and their lives to be a part of the change even if it means doing something which might seem insignificant to some such as not wearing a hijab or riding a bike. Listening to these women is inspiring: “We immediately rented 2 bicycles to say we’re not giving up cycling…It’s our absolute right and we’re not going to give up”, “am I a criminal because I love life and I love cycling?”, “on that day (when the ban will be lifted), I will be proud that I did resist the oppression”, “we will do what we think and feel is right”. Listen to this woman expressing her feelings while riding with her mother.

It’s obvious that Khamenei will never overturn his fatwa since he cares less for the freedoms of women than for the support of the hardline men who make up his regime. Hassan Rouhani hasn’t voiced his opinion on this issue but judging from the past, he is powerless to fight the regime on social issues. In the past, he has called on the authorities to relax the implementation of hijab laws, to allow women to support the Iranian teams in sports stadiums etc…but he knows what everyone knows in Tehran: going against the Supreme Leader on any issue is the quickest way to disappear physically or politically. It makes no difference that he encouraged Iranian women to enjoy health lifestyles nor that he has expressed support for solutions to save the environment because as Barbara Slavin put it so simply “probably he is the right man at the right time, and the best we can hope for…But he’s a cautious bureaucrat. He knows exactly how far he can go without riling up the supreme leader and other hardline elements of the country”. Or as one Iranian politician who preferred to remain unnamed said “the leader (Khamenei) is mainly interested in remaining in power…anyone who endangers that is either thrown in jail or gets shot”.

But Rouhani will have to step out of his comfort zone if he intends to drum up votes in the upcoming presidential elections: it was the votes of women, liberals and secular Iranians which brought him to power – without their support, he is bound to lose. His loss will be the hardliners’ gain and the oppression of the civil rights and the personal and social freedoms of the Iranian people is bound to grow which will leave his disillusioned voters with a simple choice: bow down to the regime or rise up against it. The only hope is that if enough Iranian women decide to take the issue of their oppression to the streets, the regime will find itself in a no-win situation: accept the gradual liberation of women’s rights or crack down on the protesting women and face a huge backlash by Iranian women and their male supporters who would rather live a “normal” life than a “revolutionary” one.


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Fan the Sparks of Feminism in Iran

On the issue of women’s rights in Iran, there is bad news, good news, worse news and potentially good news:

  • Let’s start with the bad news: Women’s rights in Iran, as in most countries ruled under Shariah laws, are severely limited I comparison to Western countries. This article is much too short to get into all of the oppressive laws and traditions so you might want to check out this quiz to test yourself or simply google “women’s rights Iran”.
  • The good news is that “the only way is up”. When women are legally worth only half of their male counterparts and they are forced to dress and act in certain ways, any improvement in women’s rights will be a substantial change from the current situation.
  • Unfortunately, there is worse news: Under the oppression of the regime, there are little or no opportunities for women to fight for their rights. The regime, which views any criticism as a sin, is hell-bent on maintaining the status quo of the Islamic Revolution. Women, and men, who do present an alternative in which women and men enjoy equal rights are either branded as prostitutes, accomplices of the hated “West”, “seditionists” etc…
  • Finally, the potentially good news…Even under such an oppressive regime, there are some isolated cases of people, especially women, who are fighting for better rights, for equality with men, for more power in public office, for the end of gender segregation, for the end of enforced hijabs etc… These brave women might not have, yet, brought about the change that they struggled to achieve but they are noteworthy and should be supported.

In a country where change can only happen in leaps and bounds, each spark, even a small one, can light a bonfire if there is enough grass-roots support to fan it to life.


Increased awareness in women’s rights

Although the regime might be able to stifle actions that may improve women’s rights, it can’t extinguish the growing awareness of women, and men, to the notions of women’s rights in other countries. Trips abroad, meeting foreigners, access to social media and word of mouth are opening windows for Iranian women to view what their rights could be like and then compare the potential to the glum reality. The gradual increase of secularity over time through the younger generations, is also another impetus for change since secular Iranians are less likely to support and accept Shariah laws. Richer Iranians, especially those living in and around Tehran, are also more secular and more open to emulate notions of freedom which they see in the West.

Furthermore, over the last 3 years, three political events have added their own pressure to the potential of liberating women’s rights (emphasis on potential):

  • In 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected to the presidency on a ticket for massive changes in foreign and domestic policy. His first task was to tackle Iran’s isolation and the signing of the JCPoA is a testament to his success in this field. He made 74 distinct promises of which 13 were achieved and 26 are in progress but his promise for equality for women is officially stalled. Rouhani is openly sympathetic to women’s causes but unfortunately, he remains a puppet of his Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who wants to retain the status quo.
  • The signing of the JCPoA is sure to raise awareness of the tattered state of women’s rights as foreigners, foreign brands and foreign communications, even if they are not from the West but from countries such as Russia or India, will promote more rights for women. Unfortunately, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s emphasis on a “resistance economy” and his paranoia of “foreign influence” are bound to inhibit the influence of foreigners in Iran.
  • The last parliamentary elections doubled the number of female members of parliament from 9 (3% of 290) to 17 (6%). This may sound like a huge win for Iranian women but Iran is still ranked 175 out of 193 countries for the percentage of women in national parliaments. Underneath the 100% increase lie two major problems:
    • 1) only 586 (9%) out of the 6,229 parliamentary candidates were women meaning that not enough women are motivated enough to strive for public office.
    • 2) An estimated 97% of the female candidates were disqualified during the vetting process prior to the parliamentary elections by the religious and hardline Guardian council leaving only 19 women…the same council disqualified 100% of all female candidates for the Assembly of Experts.


Sparks of women’s rights

Most of the brave women who are sparking up the issue of women’s rights are not activists per se in that they aren’t carrying picket signs nor are they really “working” at doing so. Take the hundreds of Iranian women who shared pictures of themselves without hijabs on the facebook community “My Stealthy Freedom“: these women are taking a big risk by sharing these pictures – two weeks ago, the regime cracked down on models and photographers in the fashion industry who did exactly this, closing down their social media accounts, shutting down businesses and forcing them to openly “confess” of their sins. The hijab-less women in My Stealthy Freedom may escape the regime’s radar since they are not famous but they remain in real danger. It is awe-inspiring to see the pictures of these brave women and even to see the support they receive from their husbands through pictures of their husbands supporting their cause or pictures of couples kissing.

For now, though, the regime has kept far away from My Stealthy Freedom, probably due to the high level of global awareness of this campaign. Other campaigns such as the “ID card challenge” in which Iranians shared pictures of themselves as opposed to pictures of their ID cards were promptly shut down by the regime.

Two weeks ago, another spark was ignited when Taraneh Alidoosti, a prominent Iranian actress in the Academy Award winning film, “The Salesman” inadvertently exposed a “feminist” tattoo, a “woman power” symbol made of a purple female sign and a clenched fist. As could be expected, the hardliners took a critical view of the tattoo and its meaning and immediately went on the attack while supporters of women’s rights defended the tattoo and its bearer. The issue raged on her twitter account and included, to date, over 6 thousand likes and at last 1 thousand retweets . “Keep calm and YES I am a feminist“, she wrote and while some attacked her (“You are advertising foreigners”) others were cautionary (“Keep calm and You will be in Evin Prison Tomorrow”).

And then, there is the case of Atena Farghadani, the Iranian cartoonist who drew a caricature of Iranian MP’s as animals following a proposed bill to deny and limit contraceptives in order to increase the birth-rate. She was arrested and sent to jail for 12 years and 9 months but managed to be freed after 18 months in her appeal following worldwide pressure to free her.

Another ongoing campaign is taking place over the rights of women to cheer on Iran’s national sports teams in volleyball, football etc…from stadiums which are legally gender segregated. Some women like Ghoncheh Ghavami protested by entering a stadium openly while others like “Shakiba” snuck in disguised as a man. This campaign has great potential only if the governing bodies such as FIFA (football) and FIVB (volleyball) decide to enforce their laws against gender segregation and forbid international games in Iran until the stadiums are open to women as well.

Each win by each Iranian citizen to improve human rights might seem limited: sharing a picture without a hijab, a woman power tattoo, 18 months in jail instead of 253 months, sneaking into a sports stadium…these all sound very small to cultures in which loudly protesting women bear their breasts publicly or sue their governments in order to improve women’s rights. But in Iran, each spark of activism should be cared for and shared with others because no one knows which spark, as well as where and when the spark occurs, will light the bonfire of massive protests.


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Human Rights in Iran from Bad to Worst

human rights 2As Rouhani took office, his image of a moderate leader with aspirations for rapprochement with the West ignited sparks of hope that Iran would find itself out of isolation.

In regards to Tehran’s nuclear program, the sparks of hope turned into a bonfire with the preliminary agreement in Geneva. Since then, the bonfire grew and simmered but the fire of hope kept on burning, warming relations between Tehran and the rest of the world.

But as far as human rights in Iran are concerned, the sparks landed hopelessly on the hard and unwavering laws of the Islamic regime and Rouhani’s promises of reform never had a chance.

Now, over a year and a half into his presidency, the latest reports from the UN, one issued by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and another by the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmed Shaheed, the state of human rights in Iran has gone from bad to worst on nearly all fronts.


From Freedom of Speech to Jail

ankabootFreedom of speech is a rare commodity in Iran: anyone contradicting the regime’s guide lines is liable to find himself in jail, or worst.

Take social media, for example: Iranian leaders such as Khamenei, Rouhani, Zarif, Larijani etc… are heavy users of social media as part of their propaganda but the use of social media is not available to the majority of Iranians. In fact, the IRGC has launched a surveillance operation code-named “Ankaboot” (spider) which gathers data of over 8 million Iranian “likes” on facebook in an effort to root out “corrupters” and “insulters of Islam”. This program has led to at least 60-70 arrests and this is just the beginning.

More than 13 bloggers and journalists were arrested over the past year bringing the tally of imprisoned journalists to 30 including some, such as Soheil Arabi, who are facing death sentences for “insulting the Supreme Leader”.

Websites, newspapers and TV stations are shut down if they are found to be critical of the regime and it’s going to get worst as a “Media Council” bill is being drafted in parliament which will give the government more punitive powers over the media.

Shutting down media is supplemented with the systematic destruction of satellite dishes in order to make sure that content that is deemed unfit to the regime should not be seen or heard by the Iranian people.


Persecution of Religious Minorities

Education-Is-Not-A-Crime-846x454Despite the fact that the Iranian constitution allows for the freedom of religious minorities to exist, in reality, they are being persecuted.

Baha’is are singled out for persecution on a regular basis on many fronts. i.e.:

  • Burials: Tehran issues strict laws contrary to Baha’I traditions concerning burials and have repeatedly delayed Baha’I burials.
  • Education: Baha’i students are systematically discriminated in higher education and are regularly barred from registering in universities – this has sparked the worldwide “Education Is Not A Crime” campaign.

Christians are also persecuted and at least 92 Christians are in jail for their religious beliefs. On Christmas day, mass arrests were conducted in churches across the nation and several pastors remain in jail to this date.

Even Sunnis are persecuted and are not given permits to build new mosques while being told that they should pray in Shiite mosques instead.


Segregation and Persecution of Women

acid attackA set of new laws are being drafted to increase the persecution of women in Iran:

Together with women’s hair being hidden, women’s voices are being shut: Women are not allowed to sing in public. Some musicians were brave enough to defy these laws only to find their concerts shut down. Other prominent Iranian singers simply left the country to sing elsewhere.


Executions Rise

jabbariDespite all the pressure against Iran to tone down its policy of the death penalty, the numbers of executions is at a 12 year peak and is the highest per capita in the world. The human rights chief Javad Larijani made a big issue about  the fact that “80%”  of the executions were for drug-related offenses, as if that made it OK, but in fact, that number is closer to 50%. Out of 753 documented executions, 362 were drug-related. The rest of the executions include 13 juveniles and 25 women.

High profile executions  include the hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, whose crime was killing an employee at the Ministry of Intelligence who attempted to rape her and the Kurdish Saman Naseem, 22, for the crime of “enmity against God” while being a juvenile.

In order to understand fully just how bad the situation is, one should read the list of executions and identify the charges of those executed which include “Moharebeh” (enmity against God” and many suspicious “N/A” charges which could be anything from freedom of speech to human rights activism.


Rouhani promised radical changes in the state of human rights in Iran and to his credit, he continues to speak out on these issues.

Unfortunately, he seems powerless to “walk the talk” and Rouhani has not introduced one single bill which eases the desecration of human rights in Iran. Oh, and Tehran’s response to the UN reports? Tehran, as in the past, shows neither acceptance nor remorse and instead simply deemed “unrealistic” and “biased”.


Iran is the SHARK within Rouhani’s WAVE


Iran host a conference against violence, extremism and terrorism” – sounds a bit like “pedophile running the PTA”, “alcoholist as designated driver” or “butchers supporting vegans”, doesn’t it?

Iran, a long-time supporter of global terrorism and subversion as well as a country led by religious extremists and a serial abuser of human rights is holding a conference against violence, extremism and terror? This should sound strange to all but what is even stranger is that some leaders actually don’t find this strange at all.


Iran’s Path from Terror to Peace?

Shark_2Last September, President Rouhani introduced his initiative for peace,  WAVE (World Against Violence & Extremism), at his UN General Assembly speech stating that “peace was within reach”.

Even then, it sounded a bit strange that such an initiative would come from Iran but it seemed to symbolize Rouhani’s quest for a rapprochement with the West.

Since then, Iran has constantly rebranded itself as a moral spearhead against extremism, violence and terrorism repeatedly while at the same time continuing to do the exact opposite by increasing its involvement in terrorism through its elite Qods forces and terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, increasing its abuse of human rights through maiming and executions for religious crimes and increasing its efforts at subversion in any country with a large Shi’ite population (Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc…).

Everyone should have shouted “the emperor has no clothes” but they didn’t. Everyone should know that within Rouhani’s WAVE remains the shark that is the regime in Tehran but they don’t.


The Best Defense is Offence

khamenei twitter 2.bmp
In order to strengthen its position as a peacemaker and weaken the links between Tehran and extremism/violence/terrorism, it wasn’t sufficient for Iran to rebrand itself as pro-peace and pioneer in human rights (check out human rights chief Larijani’s speech at the UPR): It was essential to rebrand the US/West as the ultimate supporters of global terrorism as well as the biggest abusers of human rights with a special focus on Fergusson in the US.

Nobody in Tehran bothered to point out the difference between legislated abuses of human rights such as jailing journalists, lawyers and dissidents, executing gays, persecuting minorities, enforcing gender segregation, empowering abusers of women etc…, as opposed to isolated outbreaks of racism that are frowned upon by Western governments and their judicial systems. And although Khamenei loves to rant about racism against abuses of African Americans in the US, it is hard to not remember that Obama is an African American himself and that Hillary Clinton is running for the next presidency – would Khamenei allow a woman, a Baha’i, a Christian or a Jew become president? No.

Nobody in Tehran took the time to point out that although the US/West is guilty of supporting terrorism in isolated cases, terrorist organizations are actively financed and supported by Iran since the Islamic revolution and they are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Syria alone.


Iran’s Attempt to Divide and Conquer

dividedWhy is Iran going through all of this? What’s the point?

Quite simply, Tehran is running a campaign to create an alternative to the US/West for those countries who share Iran’s animosity to the US. Khamenei wants to lead a Global Islamic Awakening that will surpass the powers of the “arrogant imperialistic Satan” by uniting all the US’s enemies under a camp with military and economic powers supported by lofty moral rights.

Tehran is targeting 5 intertwining groups:

  • Neighbors: Countries which are in easy reach of Iran – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Gulf States, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan etc…
  • NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) members: Mostly countries in African, South America and Asia – Iran will be chairing NAM until next year.
  • Islamic Countries: Any and all countries with strong Islamic parties (preferably Shi’ite) which might find an Islamic Revolution appealing.
  • Anti-US Superpowers: Specifically Russia and China who are not fearful of US/Western sanctions.
  • Anti-US Western Countries: Any and all countries which are waiting eagerly for sanctions against Iran to drop in order to do make money from Iran.

The participants of the WAVE conference all fit into one of more of these groups: delegates from Asian, African, South American and Middle Easter countries were “supported” by several delegates from Norway and France.

During the conference, Rouhani presented a 10 point plan to combat violence. It is worth reading his first point to understand just how cynical it really is: “Countries which have helped formation of terrorism through organizing it and providing financial aid should explicitly announce their hatred of terrorism and stop direct or indirect funding of the groups. They should also work with victim countries in fighting terrorism in terms of military, intelligence and financial help. Iraq and Syria have undergone unprecedented casualties and human loss, and countries which were behind the damages should bear responsibilities to compensate the loss.”

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Cause and effect: Hijab laws in Iran lead to acid throwing

acid 7

In Iran, the vigilante monsters who throw acid in a woman’s face because of “bad hijab”, are doing so in the name of Islam.

Even worse, they do so in the name of the law as well: acid attacks began immediately following the passing of a bill in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, to enforce the proper use of hijab by empowering vigilantes.


The Politics of the Hijab

women-targetedHardliners in the Majlis have been calling for harsher enforcement laws for “enjoining good and forbidding wrong” for ages but even more so since Rouhani took office. This is perhaps in response to Rouhani’s election promises to tone down the hijab laws and to give women more freedom or perhaps even in response to Rouhani’s efforts to close a nuclear deal with the West.

Already back in July, a statement signed by 195 Majlis representatives called on Rouhani to back “efforts to change the lifestyle of Iranian people regarding modesty and hijab” as part of the war against “cultural invasion against the Islamic regime”.

In their petition, they called the hijab situation in Iran “disgraceful” that did not “meet the dignity of the Islamic republic”. The co-signers of the petition blamed TV/internet for the situation but mostly they blamed themselves: “If when we first saw a person with bad Islamic hijab we confronted her and prevented her from entering meetings, offices etc, there would have certainly been no second or third such person. But since we ignored the case, the problem has now become rampant where we cannot enforce it even in our own families and can’t even mention the idea or give advice on it.”


Rouhani’s Shining Moment

IRAN_-_Gender_(SF)To be fair, not only has Rouhani repeatedly spoken out against harsh hijab enforcement, but he slammed the proposed bill in the Majlis at the outset and his outspoken reaction to the acid attacks shines as a beacon of what could be right in Iran.

Not only did he quickly condemn the attacks but he promised the attackers “the most severe punishment” while attacking the regime itself: “The sacred call to virtue is not the prerogative of a select group of people…a handful taking the moral high ground and acting as custodians…all under the banner of Islam.”

Unfortunately, Rouhani’s track record in fulfilling promise, especially in human rights, is inversely proportional to the amount of promises that he made.

But while Rouhani promised that the government would pursue the case with “all its might”, other Iranian leaders simply went into denial.

Regime Leaders Keep On Denying

_70897807_ab4c9578-c7bd-4302-895f-f0d1f98dec06Javad Larijani, Iran’s Human Rights chief, for example, blames (drum roll) “foreign agents” (clapping). But then again, Larijani fervently “believes” that Iran doesn’t have a human rights problem and sees, like his brother and Majlis speaker, Ali Larijani, foreign intervention in any criticism against Iran. By the way, Javad’s other famous brother, the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, doesn’t see the connection between the acid attacks and the enforcement bill passed at the Majlis.

Instead of taking responsibility, the Majlis national security committee chief, Abbas-Ali Mansouri also blamed “foreign and Zionist intelligence agencies” for trying “to distort the image of Islam”.

The acid attacks and the ensuing protest caught the attention of the media with pictures and movies spreading around the world virally creating a backlash against the Iranian media who were warned about associating the attacks to the enforcement bill. Tehran prosecutor, Gholam Hossein Esmaili emphasized this further by explaining that connecting the two is “an immoral act”.  Denial, denial, denial and more denials.

The Iranian people obviously don’t believe that the linkage is not “immoral: thousands of men and women spontaneously took to the streets in protest while the main protests took place in front of the Majlis building shouting out slogans that equated the vigilantes actions to the horrors of ISIS (“Isfahan doesn’t want ISIS, stop acid attacks“).


And while the Majlis is far from being a group of terrorist ISIS thugs, the Majlis members should accept the responsibility of their actions: passing a bill to empower vigilantes to enforce hijab laws has spiraled out of control and has led to the suffering of these innocent women. Blaming foreigners and the women themselves is simply an act of cowardice instead of manning up.


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Brewing Storm Over Hijab in Iran

fashion 2

The Hijab seems to be at the center of a growing storm that threatens to pit Iranian women against the regime. The Hijab, reintroduced to Iranian women by Khomeini in 1979 has long been an issue among human rights activists and Iranian women on one side and conservative mullahs on the other.

The issue of the Hijab is growing as women fight for their freedom while the regime fights for control. Back in March, Iranian London-based journalist Masih Alinejad opened a facebook page called “My Stealthy Freedom” in which Iranian women were invited to upload pictures of themselves “Hijab-less” – it garnered over 600 thousand fans and tens of thousands of brave Iranian women who chose to break the law.  It also created a backlash by conservative hardliners who vowed to punish Alinejad and the Hijab-less women.

According to Article 638 of Iran’s 1996 Islamic Penal Code, “women who appear in the street and public places without the Islamic Hijab will serve time, between ten days and two months, and will have to pay a cash fine”. Morality police hand out tickets which are usually settled through fines although in some instances, women were imprisoned and even whipped.

At the same time, the mullahs and the army are calling for stronger measures to fight “violations of Hijab” fearing that the removing the Hijab is part of a “soft war” against Iran and the basis of the Islamic regime.

President Rouhani’s stance on the Hijab befits his moderate ideals: he is for wearing Hijabs but against zealous enforcement. His tweet congratulating Iranian born professor Maryam Mirzakhani for winning a prestigious math included two pictures of Mirzakhani – one with  a Hijab and one without. The Iranian parliament hit back immediately by issuing a “yellow card” against the Minister of Interior and 195 “hardliners” warned Rouhani to take the Hijab more seriously out of fear that liberation from the Hijab is “one of the major examples of enemiesˈ cultural invasion against Iran” by “changing the lifestyle of the Iranian women”


Tehran Regime Mirrored in Football and Hijabs



Unless you are on holiday on another planet, you know that the World Cup is being played out in Brazil: 32 national football teams converged in Brazil, followed by billions of fans from all over the globe.

Football? Prisoners – Yes. Women – No

The World Cup is truly a world-uniting experience: Just to put things in proportion, nearly half of the planet’s population, 3.2 billion people, watched the last World Cup final. No matter what is the local time, work status, school status – people are watching it at home or in bars, restaurants and coffee shops – even prisoners in Guantanamo jail watch it.

Everyone is watching except for women in Iran.  Why? Because people like Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami believes that “if women attend games (both in stadiums and screenings) there could be no guarantees that hijab or chastity would be properly observed or respected.”

World Cup games cannot be screened in cinemas, restaurants and coffee shops to audiences that include women. Some Iranian women have openly defied these laws by viewing the games at restaurants and coffee shops which have led to police crackdowns resulting in forcing the establishments to not screen the games.

Yes, it’s “only” a game and no one is physically hurt. But it is another symbol of repression by the regime in Tehran just as separate rest rooms and restaurants were for African Americans in the US and in any other country that practices or practiced racism. And in this case, it’s even more symbolic since Iran’s national team was actually playing in the world cup!

Iranian authorities have cracked down on fans, going so far as to arrest people who appear in a video intended to support the footballers. Why? Once again, the fear of seeing women hijab-free.


The Hijab as a weapon

The issue of Hijabs and women’s clothing is creating quite a stir in Tehran over the past few months: hardliners are exasperated by grass-roots movements such as “my stealthy freedom“, a facebook fan page showing pictures of hijab-free women and the “Happy in Tehran“, a lip-sync video of Pharrell’s hit including hijab-free women. The hijab is the main focal point of the discussion on women’s clothing but just last week, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli was summoned to parliament to answer questions about why more measures have not been taken to prevent women from wearing leggings in public.

The BBC reported that “There was a loud reaction from MPs as photos of what was dubbed “transgressive legwear” were shown on large screens during the parliamentary session”. It’s as if the Iranian parliament has nothing better to do than to discuss whether leggings are really pants or not.

In this context, it is easy to understand that the hijab is really a weapon used by the regime to repress women in Iran since the beginning of the Islamic revolution. So, why the fuss now? The answer can be found in President Rouhani’s efforts to question the essence of some religious and social laws including the hijab itself as is evident in his latest tweet in which he stated that “poverty is a greater threat to chastity than violating the hijab norms“. Hardliners in Tehran obviously don’t appreciate Rouhani’s open-mindedness and are fighting back. We can only hope that one day the hijab will become a symbol of achieved freedom by remaining in a drawer at home.

On Being “Happy”, a Kiss and the Right to Rape

women and happy

Alongside the horrid statistics of 113 hangings in one month (a “record” so far) in Iran, other human rights news hit the headlines.

Although some of these abuses might seem trivial in relation to capital punishment, they are reminders that the abuse of human rights in Iran permeates all of its society and is not limited to its prisons.


Nearly happy ending to “Happy” video

Six young people get together to make a video based on Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy”. They dance, “sing”, laugh, play-act and seem…happy. Here are the closing credits of the video: “We have made this video as Pharrell Williams’ fans…”Happy” was an excuse to be happy. We enjoyed every second of making it. Hope it puts a smile on your face.”

The video was uploaded to youtube and suddenly, they are all arrested for creating an “obscene video clip that offended the public morals” and undergo humiliation while in detention. President Rouhani disagreed and used Twitter to show so: “#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy”.

Within days, the video garnered over a million views, the participants apologized on national television and were released on bail but the clip’s director, Sassan Soleimani (who happens to have also produced Rouhani’s election videos), is still in solitary confinement awaiting prosecution. The freed participants were pressured to file a lawsuit against Soleimani in order to portray him as the ringleader.

The incident sparked a flurry of efforts by the authorities to impede social media and to ensure the enforcement of wearing hijabs.It also raised questions as to whther it was not a clever PR ploy by Rouhani and his team to show a “happier” side of Iran.


Kiss on cheek in Cannes sparks hate

The red carpet at the Cannes film festival – Leila Hatami, Iran’s leading actress offers her hand to Gilles Jacob, the president of the festival, who in turn kisses her cheek.

This kiss was seen back home as an “inappropriate presence” which was “not in line with religious beliefs” and hurt the “credibility and chastity of Iranians”.

A complaint was filed by Hezbollah Students (affiliated with IRGC) and Hatami found herself facing a public flogging and imprisonment. She bit the bullet and issued an apology “for hurting the feelings of some people” as well as an explanation in that Jacob “had forgotten the aforementioned rules” probably due to his old age (83). Hatami went on to explain that she “was embarrassed to give these explanations” but she probably knew that if she didn’t she would have to face a court and possibly a humiliating punishment.

The charges have not been officially dropped yet but her apology might suffice to get her off the hook…this time.


Showing Hair Justifies Rape

Recently, an article was published on Tasnim, and IRGC site, which epitomizes the huge gulf between basic human rights and the law in Iran.

According to the article, a woman whose head is not covered by a hijab is not only inciting rape but is also oppressing the rights of men around her. A hijab-free woman sexually arouses men who “have a right to have their sexual needs fulfilled” and since she did not ask their consent to show her body, they did not need her consent to have sex with her. By not having sex with her, the men who had to “endure” her hijab-free presence are being oppressed because they have to restrain themselves.

If people being happy can land them in jail and a kiss on the cheek can lead to a public flogging, what would be the fate of a women speaking out against such a flimsy justification of rape?