A video of a teenage girl in Tehran being violently arrested by police after playing with water guns has sparked fury among Iranian internet users.
In the video, taken on June 22, a plainclothes officer is seen forcing the 15-year-old girl into a police car as she shouts and attempts to resist. The officer pushes her and punches her as several other officers in uniform look on. A friend of the teenager who filmed the video can also be heard shouting.
Police said the girl, who was playing water games with her male and female friends in a park in eastern Tehran, had been “violating the moral codes.”
The video was published on Instagram the next day by Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist in Washington, D.C., who campaigns against mandatory hijabs.
A friend of the victim who saw the arrest told Alinejad they were “extremely afraid.”
“My three friends and I were in a park playing with water guns with some other people. Suddenly someone told us the police were coming and everyone ran away but two of my friends and I got stuck there. We thought the police would just give us a warning or something, but they beat my friend up, pulled her hair and arrested her because she argued with them.
We were extremely afraid and just looking for a way to run away. If you were in our shoes, you would never leave your house again. It was too much for 15-year-old girls like us.”
A broad term used by police to justify an arrest
Tehran police confirmed on June 24 that they had arrested three boys and two girls and placed them in custody. Abdolvahab Hasanvand, head sheriff of East Tehran, told a local TV station that the group “made a scene and insulted our agents” after being told to respect public moral and civil codes. He added that officials did not approve of the “behavior” of the plainclothes officer and would review the incident. Two officers were suspended the next day by the police chief commander, but the suspensions were withdrawn soon after.
Police did not clarify whether the teenage girl had been arrested for playing water games or for wearing her veil too loosely. The expression “immoral behavior” is often broadly used by authorities to justify an arrest.
Several state TV channels suggested that the incident had been staged by Western governments in an attempt to defy Iranian police.
Iran has enforced strict dress codes for women since the revolution, and the country’s Islamic leaders rely on “Gasht Ershad,” or the moral police, to ensure that women are wearing the mandatory hijab.
Numerous incidents of police violence against women who defy the law have been documented in recent years by local residents.
The hijab as a political tool
Police forces have gradually ramped up efforts to enforce the law, Rima, a sociology researcher in Tehran who is not using her real name for safety reasons, told the France 24 Observers.
Police violence towards women has intensified in recent years but women are using their phones to document it.
Women defying the mandatory hijab have become bolder, so police are responding accordingly. They encourage government employees to report any breach of the dress code, so that means that not only are the moral police monitoring women, but almost anyone could stop me for wearing the hijab too loosely.
Moral police patrols used to occur mainly in the summer, when women wear less clothing, but now it’s become a 24/7 mission.
The anti-hijab campaigns in other countries have turned this from a social issue into a political one. The government claims that the campaigns are ‘initiated by foreigners.’ So a girl who did not observe the strict dress code now becomes part of a bigger narrative orchestrated by American intelligence services that seeks to undermine the Islamic Republic, according to Iran’s security forces. That’s what all the media are saying.
>> Read more on The Observers:Women boldly protest hijab law in Iran’s streets
“I will not give up”
Rima said the oppressive measures do not deter her from wearing what she wants.
The suppression does not change my behavior or how I choose my outfit. I will not give up and as far as I can see, most women are doing the same.
Sometimes strangers approach me and angrily ask me to observe the dress code, but I’ve learned to just ignore them or answer politely. A few weeks ago a police officer insulted me in the street and yelled at me to wear my scarf correctly. I told him politely that he did not have the right to treat me that way, and fortunately he gave up after several minutes.
Even if he wanted to arrest me, I really do not care, since they would just keep me for a few hours in a police station. I will not change my lifestyle because of that.
They can’t take millions of Iranian women hostage just because they do not accept this strict dress code. The Islamic Republic must abandon this approach and shut down the moral police. They don’t have to declare that women are free to wear whatever they like, they should just leave society alone, which other Muslim countries like Turkey do.
On June 18, a video of a woman being violently arrested in Rasht, in northern Iran, also circulated widely online. Police claimed that the woman was drunk and dancing in the street, blocking it off for hours.
This story was published first here.