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Iranian Women Protest Mandatory Wearing Of Headscarves

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Iran where police there have arrested 29 women for publicly protesting the hijab. Wearing the hijab, or the headscarf, has been mandatory in Iran since the 1979 revolution that imposed Islamic law. In recent days, dozens of women have taken off their headscarves and held them high on sticks while standing on busy streets, a very visible and silent protest.

NAJMEH BOZORGMEHR: These are ordinary women - young, probably educated - who are protesting against an obligation that their mothers accepted under the Islamic Republic but they are not accepting.

MARTIN: That's the voice of Najmeh Bozorgmehr. She's the Tehran correspondent for the Financial Times, and she spoke with Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What are the basic rules for women when they go out in public in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

BOZORGMEHR: After the revolution, it became very strict, so it was top-to-toe covering. Today women even walk - sometimes walk in the streets with their scarves on their shoulders. And that's why the Islamic Republic is quite shocked that at this time - it has never been this relaxed - why there are protests.

INSKEEP: So what exactly is happening in these social media photos that we've seen?

BOZORGMEHR: They just go stand on top of a bench or a telecom box - whatever they find - take off their scarf, put it on a stick and stand still, like a performance artist. So we don't see any slogans. It's quiet. It's peaceful. They stand there for, like, five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Some of them have been arrested, and some have been ignored. They have come down and gone home. Yesterday, I saw an old woman did the same in solidarity with young girls. And some boys have done that, too - and not with scarf, of course, with their jackets, for instance.

INSKEEP: On the couple of occasions when women have been arrested, did the police take them into custody right there at the time on the street?

BOZORGMEHR: I talked to eyewitnesses. They say the police came, asked the woman to come down. The two girls who were arrested came down without any resistance and went with the police. So there was no resistance by the protesters, which shows they knew what the price would be. But still, they went ahead.

INSKEEP: So what is the price? What's happened to those young women?

BOZORGMEHR: The first woman was held in custody for one month and was released. The second one is still in jail. She was arrested last week. But Iranian law is not too strict if it's only the Islamic covering concerned. But they may be accused of acting against national security, which would be a different case. But I've not seen any such charge. And it won't be easy for the Islamic Republic to do that. It's almost impossible in today's Iran to go for any big crackdown.

INSKEEP: Is this protest, in some ways, a threat to the state?

BOZORGMEHR: It is a threat to the state because the Islamic Republic's ideology has been undermined over decades. And the main image of that ideology is this loose Islamic covering. And even if this is challenged, then what would remain of its ideology? So this is a very sensitive issue that the Islamic Republic now is dealing with now.

INSKEEP: Najmeh Bozorgmehr is a reporter for the Financial Times in Tehran.

Thank you very much.

BOZORGMEHR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ISSA HASSAN, E. EMEK, MANUEL DELGADO, BACHAR KHALIFE AND ADEL SHAMS EL DIN'S "ETHERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.