Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seeking to stop women removing their head scarfs in public, defended the garments Thursday, saying wearing them protected against “a deviant lifestyle,” the wall Street Journal reported.
The comments were the first from Iran’s most powerful figure since the spread of a movement in which women remove their head scarfs, or hijabs, in the streets, to protest against laws requiring them to don them in public places. Scores of women have been captured on video with their heads uncovered in 2018 in cities and towns across the country.
“By promoting modest dress (#hijab), #Islam has blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle,” Khamenei said Thursday on his official Twitter account. “Hijab is a means of immunity, not restriction.”
“The western model for women is symbolic of consumerism, cosmetics, showing off for men as a tool of male sexual arousal,” he said in another tweet.
Women have protested against wearing the hijab for decades, but the displays of defiance entered a new phase late in 2017, when a 31-year-old mother named Vida Movahed clambered onto an electrical box on a busy Tehran street, took her head scarf off and waved it from the end of a stick.
As the number of women engaging in similar protests and video shared of them on social media has grown into the hundreds, the authorities have clamped down. In early February, Tehran police said they had arrested 29 protesters.
Movahed was arrested and released after a few weeks. On Wednesday, Tehran’s chief prosecutor announced that an unidentified hijab protester had been sentenced to two years in prison, signaling that others may be dealt with more harshly. The identity of the person sentenced couldn’t be independently determined and a request for comment from Iran’s United Nations mission in New York wasn’t immediately met.
Women have traditionally been given far lighter penalties for hijab violations, although immorality statutes allow for one to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, also said women seen driving without their headscarves would have their cars impounded, according to the judiciary’s official Mizan Online news agency.
The moves come as Iran’s regime contends with wider social discontent that boiled over in late December and early January with a wave of protests over economic grievances and political disenfranchisement. Those demonstrations, the biggest in nearly a decade, died down after two weeks in the wake of a crackdown by security forces.