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UN denounces enforcement of mandatory hijab law in Iran

FILE - A woman wears a hijab while filling out her ballot at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, March 1, 2024.
FILE - A woman wears a hijab while filling out her ballot at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, March 1, 2024.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday condemned reports from Iran of increasingly strict enforcement of the state's strict mandatory hijab laws for women and girls, and a report of new draft bill that would impose severe punishments on those found guilty of violating the law.

At a news conference in Geneva, the high commissioner's spokesperson, Jeremy Laurence, said the office had received widespread reports from Iran of uniformed and plainclothes police violently cracking down on women and girls under the hijab laws — as well as men who are supporting them.

He said there have been reports of arrests and harassment of women and girls — many between the ages of 15 and 17.

Laurence said the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced on April 21 the creation of a new body to enforce existing mandatory hijab laws, which is trained to do so "in a more serious manner" in public spaces.

He said hundreds of businesses have been closed for failing to enforce the hijab laws, and surveillance cameras are being used to identify women drivers not complying with the laws. The human rights advocacy group Amnesty International also noted the practice in a report last month.

Laurence also condemned a proposed law that calls for tougher punishments for violation of the mandatory hijab law, including up to 10 years in prison, flogging and fines.

"Corporal punishment constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and any detention imposed for the exercise of fundamental freedoms is arbitrary under international law," Laurence said.

Through his spokesperson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said the proposed law should be shelved and called on the Iranian government to eliminate all forms of gender-based discrimination and violence.

Türk called for revision and repeal of any harmful laws, policies and practices to bring them "in line with international human rights norms and standards."

The human rights office also called for the release of 33-year-old rapper Toomaj Salehi, sentenced to death this week for supporting nationwide protests in 2022 sparked by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, arrested for alleged violations of the hijab laws.

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