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Iran launches aggressive crackdown on women who defy strict Islamic dress code

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Last month, Iran launched an aggressive new crackdown on women who defy the country's strict Islamic dress code. Amnesty International dubbed it a war on women. The human rights group says tactics include arbitrary arrest and detention, beatings and other forms of harassment. And one young woman who was detained agreed to share her experience. NPR's Peter Kenyon has her story.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The nationwide protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of the morality police may have died down, but individual acts of women defying the compulsory headscarf rules continue and the authorities have launched a new crackdown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

KENYON: This video, posted online by the media site Iran International, shows a young woman without a headscarf being wrestled to the ground by a female officer. A crowd gathers but doesn't try to help her. I reached 25-year-old Fariba (ph) in Tehran, and she agreed to speak for the record on condition that her family name not be used. She said she fears relatives could face retribution from security forces. Fariba says she was one of the women caught up in the latest hijab enforcement operation launched by Iran's morality police. In fact, she was arrested twice within a matter of weeks. She says her first experience with the new newer dress code enforcement happened about a month ago while she was waiting to meet a friend on one of Tehran's main boulevards.

FARIBA: (Through interpreter) Their newer operation had just started and was still new. A van stopped next to me, and I tried to talk to them first, but it was useless. They said this kind of clothing is not proper for someone living in an Islamic country.

KENYON: She says they made her put on a headscarf. She had been carrying one in her bag and tried to put it on, but they detained her anyway. And they took her picture wearing the headscarf and holding a sign saying, this is what I should have been wearing. Then she paid a fine and was released. But the second time, she says, things were not so simple. When a police van pulled up next to her. She tried to run away, but fell down and dropped her phone and identity card. When she realized they knew who she was, she decided to surrender. The van made several more stops to pick up other women without headscarves. On the ride to the station, she was surprised to hear a female officer erupt in a rage at them, saying they were laughing at the police. Suddenly, she says, she felt a sense of victory.

FARIBA: (Through interpreter) When she says this, it means first she knows how many of us there are, and secondly, she knows exactly what we think about them. But she feels helpless and can literally only throw her psychological complexes at us.

KENYON: But Fariba says she was in for another surprise. Instead of being taken to the morality police, they went to a regular police station, a place, she says, where they're used to dealing with real criminals - thieves, violent people, not young women without their headscarves. She says her interrogator not only didn't check her record, which would have revealed that it was her second offence, he shocked Fariba by admitting that law enforcement in Iran has real problems.

FARIBA: (Through interpreter) The person who was interrogating me said this. He said nobody does their job, neither these morality police guards, nor their superiors, nor the main authority. Can you believe that? This was his exact sentence.

KENYON: But despite moments like that, Fariba still faces a trial. She says the process is fairly opaque. She doesn't know when she'll be summoned, but she believes that women will continue to defy the mandatory headscarf rules until one day, she hopes, it will become a thing of Iran's past.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.

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