In a rare display of public protest, thousands of Iranians in Tehran, Isfahan and Saqez – including women with their faces covered to hide their identities — took to the streets to protest the recent spate of acid attacks on women in Isfahan.
At least nine women have been maimed (with one succumbing to her injuries) in the last three weeks by suspected hardliners unhappy with the level of obedience to the Iranian regime’s strict dress code. Shouting, "The one who splashes acid is a regime element – we lack security" and "Support us, support us, splashing acid is a crime," protesters skirmished with Iran’s brutal Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who reportedly fired tear gas and pepper spray into the crowd.
Authorities briefly detained famed Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.
Soutoudeh spent three years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for defending political prisoners. She has since been prevented from practicing law.
Two days after the protest, authorities arrested Iranian photojournalist Arya Jafara, whose photos of the protesters were distributed globally.
The acid attacks and subsequent protests took place as the backdrop of a debate being waged in the Iranian parliament about a controversial bill that has been proposed by hardliners to allow common citizens as well as militias to enforce the dress code, as well as any other interpretation of Islamic morality that they deem is being violated.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani opposes the legislation. “Rue the day some lead our society down the path to insecurity, sow discord and cause rifts, all under the banner of Islam,” Rouhani reportedly told a cheering crowd. “We should not see vice as manifested only in ‘bad hijab’ and overlook lies, corruption, slander and bribery,” he added.
Al Jazeera reported that the dress code issue has brought Rouhani in “direct confrontation” with the hardline, conservative clergy of the country.
In an unusual move, Rouhani responded to remarks made by the Ayatollah Sayed Yousef Tabatabaei-Nejad during Friday prayers in Isfahan. "Hijab is the symbol of women's piety," said Nejad. "Anyone who deviates from it is deviating from Islam."
Answering Nejad, Rouhani said in a speech, "The dress code should not be the only subject about which we propagate virtue. A few people should not assume they are the only moral compass in the country."
Images of victims of acid attacks circulated widely on Iranian social media, with some reports claiming that there have been as many as 15 attacks in the last weeks.
One victim wrote: "My entire body was burning, but when I took some of my clothes off to cool down passersby didn't think of helping me, instead they kept telling me off for forgetting the dress code.
For more information on Iran's strict dress code see Clarion Project's Factsheet: Human Rights in Iran.