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Repressive enforcement of Iranian hijab laws symbolises gender-based persecution: UN experts

14 April 2023

GENEVA (14 April 2023) – The repressive enforcement of Iranian hijab laws, as announced by the State authorities, would result in additional restrictive and punitive measures on women and girls who fail to comply with the country’s compulsory veiling laws, UN experts* said today.

The experts warned that such repressive and draconian measures are a manifestation of gender-based persecution and would lead to unacceptable levels of violations of the rights of women and girls in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“It is deeply worrying that after months of nationwide protests, including against restrictive hijab laws, and following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police, Iranian women are increasingly facing harsh and coercive measures by State authorities,” the UN experts said.

The experts noted that compulsory veiling laws are enshrined in Iran’s penal code and other laws and regulations, which allow security and administrative authorities to subject women to arbitrary arrests and detentions, and deny them access to public institutions, including hospitals, schools, government offices and airports, if they do not cover their hair.

“These additional repressive measures would further exacerbate the negative impact of the compulsory hijab laws. Criminalising refusal to wear the hijab is a violation of the right to freedom of expression of women and girls and opens the door to a range of other possible violations of political, civil, cultural and economic rights,” they said.

The experts recalled that under the current version of Iran's Islamic Penal Code, any act deemed “offensive” to public decency is punishable by 10 days to two months in prison or 74 lashes. Women seen in public without a veil could be sentenced to between 10 days and two months in prison or a fine. The law applies to girls as young as nine, which is the minimum age of criminal responsibility for girls in Iran. In practice, the authorities have imposed compulsory veiling on girls from the age of seven at the start of elementary school.

“The discriminatory and degrading measures allow judicial authorities to detain women and girls who do not comply with the hijab rules in order to force them to sign a written document stating that they will not repeat the ‘offence’,” the experts said.

They pointed out that women who refuse to sign such a document, or generally refuse to comply with the compulsory veiling after signing the written document, can face a range of “punishments” including being placed under surveillance for six months and restrictions on foreign travel for up to a year and exclusion from government or public positions.

The rules extend to managers and business owners, who will effectively act as “police” to enforce the compulsory veiling in the event of non-compliance by female employees.

The Iranian Ministry of Education has also announced that educational services will not be provided to students who do not comply with the rules of “chastity and hijab” – undermining their fundamental right to education.

“These restrictive measures and repressive policies that do not rely on laws or legal process, but on enforcement by a range of State authorities and private actors are at the heart of the State's control over the public and private lives of its citizens, particularly women and girls. These draconian measures impose de facto social and economic paralysis on women who refuse to comply with these laws,” the experts said.

The UN experts urged Iranian authorities to amend the Constitution, repeal existing gender discriminatory laws, and abolish all regulations whereby women's dress or behaviour in public or private life is monitored and controlled by State authorities.

*The experts: Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of IranFarida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur on cultural rights; Ms Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page — Iran

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