Hundreds of people marched their bikes through the streets of Marivan, a town in western Iran last Tuesday in protest at the decision by local authorities to ban women from using bicycles.

More and more Iranians have been getting on bicycles since Iranian authorities launched an anti-pollution campaign encouraging citizens to cycle every Tuesday. The initiative has been well-received and thousands of Iranians are now riding their bicycles at least once a week.

However, in the town of Marivan, local authorities did not like the idea of women participating in this initiative. On July 26, the police ordered women to stop cycling. According to local activists, at least five women were even arrested, only to be freed a few hours later.

Numerous residents of Marivan were angered by the way the authorities were pressuring women to stop cycling. These past two Tuesdays (August 2 and August 9), hundreds of men and women marched their bicycles through the town streets in protest of the ban.

This video was filmed during the first protest, held on Tuesday, August 2. Police officers tried to disperse the protesters. A woman replies that if she can cycle in the rest of Iran, there is no reason that she shouldn’t be allowed to cycle in Marivan.

"According to the local iman, women should not cycle because it goes counter to the teachings of Islam”

Jiar (not his real name) lives in Marivan.

For the past three months, both men and women in Marivan have been riding bicycles every Tuesday. People were really excited about the initiative. Some people even organised group rides to Zaribar lake, which is about three kilometres from the town centre.

However, two weeks ago, the police told women that they should stop cycling in public. They said the only places where women could ride bicycles were in gyms and parks. The next Friday, the top local imam, Mamusta Mostafa Shirzadi, actually said that women shouldn’t be cycling because it is counter to the teachings of Islam.

The second protest was held on Tuesday, August 7.
 
For the past two weeks, the police have been stopping women who they catch cycling. The police officers take the woman to the police station and then call her father or her brother. In order to leave, the woman has to sign a document stating that she will “never again cycle in a public place”.
 
"The authorities say that they will reserve a park for women to cycle in”

I participated in the protests held this Tuesday and last Tuesday [August 2]. Hundreds of people took part in it. We all marched together, pushing our bicycles. Some people rode their bikes, too.
 

Because there were so many of us, the police didn’t dare to stop the march. However, this Tuesday, police officers arrested three women caught cycling and only freed them several hours later.

The local authorities said that they would reserve one of the local parks each Wednesday so that women could cycle there. The park in question is surrounded by a wall, which authorities said would keep men from watching.
 
This video was filmed during the protest on August 7.

People are furious about this decision -- especially women. Iranian women are allowed to cycle in all the other towns in this country, except for Marivan. Men, on the other hand, feel insulted by this decision because the authorities claimed that there were security reasons behind the ban. Women have been cycling alongside men for the past three months and there hasn’t been a single incident. The only incident occurred when the police arrested women for cycling.

Photo taken during the protest held on August 2.

"Activists launched a petition to get the president involved”

Activists launched a petition demanding that the local governor, Mohammad Fallahi; the vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi; and President Hassan Rohani take action to right this wrong. More than 1,500 people have already signed the petition.

We are determined to fight this injustice. We all live in the same country and the authorities should treat us equally. If women are allowed to cycle elsewhere in Iran, then it should also be authorised here in Marivan.

 
The governor of Marivan, Mohammad Fallahi, responded to the protests during an interview with local media in early August.

“We have no problem with women cycling. However, we need to set aside a space for them to cycle in. For their own security, we are going to find a place where they can cycle”, he said.

Up until now, the Iranian authorities have tolerated women cycling in public places. But while there are no laws keeping women from cycling, conservative leaders consider it against sharia law. Occasionally, tensions flare up between locals and the authorities over this issue, especially in very conservative towns like Qom and Mashhad, which are considered holy cities by Iranian Shiite Muslims.