A protester in Isfahan. Photo published on Facebook.

There have been at least four cases of acid attacks on women in the last two weeks in Isfahan, in central Iran. A rumour quickly spread throughout the city according to which the women were attacked because they weren’t covered up enough. This prompted several thousand residents to take to the streets in protest, and call on the authorities to act.

Though the local authorities said they were doing everything in their power to find the perpetrators of the attacks, their promises were not enough to calm the 2,000 to 3,000 protesters who gathered in front of Isfahan’s courthouse on Wednesday. The demonstration ended in clashes with the police.

In Tehran, about 100 people – including internationally renowned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh – gathered in front of the nation’s parliament, where a proposed law regarding enforcement of hijab-wearing is currently being examined. If approved, this law would give more power to bassijis, who are volunteers with the Revolutionary Guard.

A message written on protester's sign uses a famous Iranian poem to denounce acid attacks on women. Photo published on Twitter by @nz_parisa.

“People asked the prosecutor: ‘If your daughter was attacked, how would you react?’”

Saman (not his real name) is an Isfahan resident who took part in the protest.

Everyone was informed about the location and time of the protest via social networks. We met at 10am. People were holding signs and chanting slogans including, “Police, tell me where my sister’s eyes are?”, “Isfahan is our city, safety is our right”, “You cannot use force to enforce hijab-wearing”, “Iran will not become Iraq, your silence means you support the Islamic State”, and “Shame on the intelligence minister [who is considered to be responsible for the country’s security].”

Photo taken by our Observer in Isfahan.

People were also criticizing the national television, which they accused of ignoring these attacks; demanding that Isfahan’s general prosecutor resign; and accusing hardliners of being responsible for these recent attacks. It was interesting to see that most of the protesters were visibly religious men and women; many of the women were wearing chadors.

After half an hour, the general prosecutor and his deputy came out to address the crowd. The protesters asked what he had done to find the perpetrators. He didn’t give a clear answer. All he said was that the investigations were complicated and confidential, so he couldn’t say exactly what they were doing. He did however announce that they had formed a special unit to concentrate on the investigations. Still, they didn’t manage to placate the protesters. People asked the prosecutor, ‘If your daughter was attacked, how would you react?’.

The protest ended after a few hours. I heard that people were arrested just a few streets away from where I was, but I didn’t see anything.

Women in Isfahan are having a really hard time right now. They’re extremely frightened by these attacks. Even my sister, who is a very active person, says she doesn’t want to leave the house until they find the criminals. She said, ‘If I have to leave the house, I’ll wear a chador’. And she’s not very religious! But she says this because everyone believes that fundamentalists are behind these attacks.

Unfortunately, the authorities haven’t really given any explanations as to what’s happened and what they plan to do; that’s why rumours are spreading so quickly. We still don’t know exactly how many women were attacked. Only four cases were officially confirmed, but many believe there have been more. Each time, the victims were behind the wheel of their cars, driving in a well-off neighbourhood.

According to official sources, the same acid was used in the four recent attacks, which is what has led authorities to believe they are linked. Authorities also indicated that one of the women was wearing a chador, which covers up more of a woman’s body than the hijab, which is mandatory in Iran.

Acid attacks against women are rare in Iran, unlike in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, which have become notorious for this type of violence. Between 2001 and 2010, fifty-nine acid attacks were reported in Iran, according to “Surgery in Iran”, a surgeon’s magazine. The victims included about as many men as women.

Protesters in Isfahan. Photo published on Twitter by @nz_parisa.