IRAN

Threat of rape used to pressure women in Iran to wear hijab

Our Observers in Iran tell us that a disturbing photo of a mutilated woman has been widely circulated via text message, accompanied by threats of rape for women who do not wear headscarves and conservative clothing. This comes at a time when an increasing number of Iranian women are pushing back against the Islamic Republic’s compulsory dress code.

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A woman wearing a hijab in Iran. 

 

 

Our Observers in Iran tell us that a disturbing photo of a mutilated woman has been widely circulated via text message, accompanied by threats of rape for women who do not wear headscarves and conservative clothing. This comes at a time when an increasing number of Iranian women are pushing back against the Islamic Republic’s compulsory dress code.

 

WARNING: THE IMAGES BELOW MAY SHOCK VIEWERS.

 

The photo in question shows a young woman whose lips and eyes are sown shut. It has been shared in Iran via text messaging apps for about a month now. Many of the messages accompanying the photo claim she was raped because she wasn’t wearing a hijab. While the woman’s true identity is unknown, a Google Image search reveals that the photo has been circulating on various English-language websites – mainly body modification sites – since back in 2012, long before this rumour started circulating in Iran.

 

For months now, a war has been brewing between the supporters and opponents of the hijab. In Iran’s big cities, more and more women are letting their headscarves drop around their shoulders, according to our Observers. And dozens have posted their hijab-less photos on the Facebook page “Stealthy Freedoms”. Meanwhile, hardliners have staged multiple demonstrations calling for women to wear their hijabs.

 

Now, the question of rape is being brought into the debate. Beyond the disturbing photo, a controversy erupted several weeks ago after a Google+ user wrote a post arguing that men who rape women that don’t wear hijabs should not be prosecuted. The post was widely circulated, and garnered plenty of backlash on social media. However, the Tasnim News Agency, a hardliner media that is affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, decided to throw its weight behind this suggestion by publishing an editorial arguing that “men have the right to have sexual relations with women who dress inappropriately, without the woman’s consent”.

 

A screen grab of a message circulating on Whatsapp. It claims that 90 wahabbi Sunnis kidnapped, raped, tortured, and killed this girl. It goes on to warn girls not to stay out late on the streets. 

“The hijab is the Achilles’ heel of religious conservatives”

Mohammad lives in Shiraz, in southwestern Iran.

 

For about a month now, the photo of the girl has been circulating a lot in Fars province. It’s distributed via text messaging apps like Whatsapp and Viber. The message accompanying the photo usually says that the girl lived in Shiraz, and that she was raped, tortured, and murdered because she wasn’t dressed properly. Sometimes the message says she was kidnapped by Sunni wahabbis; sometimes it doesn’t point to a specific group, and says that serial killers have emerged in our area. The photo has now spread further - friends from other cities around the country call us and tell us to be careful!

 

Some people have realised this is just a rumour, but the majority of people, particularly in small towns, talk about it with fear. [Editor's Note: Local police have tried to dispel this rumour; see photo below]. This will undoubtedly result in family members putting more restrictions on women, or women putting restrictions on themselves.

 

It seems to me that all this - the pro-hijab protests, the article saying it’s ok to rape women who don’t wear hijabs - cannot be coincidental. The hijab is the Achilles’ heel of religious conservatives. Despite repeated crackdowns by the morality police, women’s fashion trends have evolved; last year, for example, leggings became quite popular. And now, with warm days on the horizon, the conservatives are getting nervous again. Therefore, creating an atmosphere of fear benefits their agenda.

 

This article, published in a newspaper in south Iran, quotes police as saying that text messages circulating about a tortured girl are only rumours.