Just shy of the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini, which ignited widespread protests throughout Iran, the Iranian Judiciary has approved a new, more stringent Hijab and Chastity bill. The original bill contained 15 clauses; however, following a rigorous amendment process by the Parliamentary Judiciary Committee, the bill has expanded from 15 articles to 70 and has been rebranded as the ‘Bill to Support the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab.’ Human Rights Activists (HRA) has conducted an in-depth investigation uncovering more than 180 individuals and institutions connected to the endorsement of the bill in some form from its inception to present day. Additionally, through a thorough analysis of the available articles HRA has identified those responsible for the implementation of the bill across society once final approval has been obtained.
Where does the bill stand today?
The recent revisions to Iran’s hijab laws have led to stricter penalties for those who fail to adhere to them. These amendments encompass various aspects of public life, particularly concerning gender segregation. This is notably applicable to institutions such as universities, public offices, parks, and specific sections of hospitals. The bill, which has recently been approved by the Judicial Committee of the Parliament, now awaits the vote by the Internal Committee to determine its experimental implementation. However, before setting the date for the implementation The Guardian Council; this unelected power council of 12 men, that recently re-elected a 97-year-old cleric, will be deciding the fate of 85 million Iranians. They are tasked with reviewing the bill’s provisions, ensuring their alignment with Islamic Law. Once endorsed, the bill will return to the parliament for the determination of its commencement date. The bill is likely to come into force early October 2023.
The vote by the Internal Committee is occurring because the Islamic Consultative Assembly of Iran convened an open session where representatives collectively decided to propose the review of the contentious “Chastity and Hijab Bill” within the internal commission, thus removing it from the public discussion arena. This step, guided by Article 85 of the constitution, led to the transfer of the bill’s examination to a dedicated group of representatives.
However, critics raised concerns about the lack of transparency, asserting that the public is being excluded from crucial discussions that significantly impact their lives. A similar approach was used for the highly contentious and draconian internet bill, Iranians are too often kept in the dark about processes containing their vital rights. Consequently, discussions surrounding the bill’s approval will not be broadcasted through mass media platforms, including the radio, television, and newspapers. Among the assembly’s 238 representatives, a majority of 175 voted in favor of this decision, while 49 expressed opposition, and five abstained.
What does the bill seek to achieve?
The issue of mandatory hijab remains a focal point, with conservative elements closely monitoring its development. In recent years, a significant number of Iranian women have vocally expressed their dissent against the imposition of compulsory hijab. Notably, the tragic death of Mahsa Zhina Amini during an arrest by the morality police triggered widespread protests across the nation. Amid the discussion of the proposal, one of its architects officially acknowledged that if debated in the public assembly session, the bill’s “non-approval” was likely due to over 1,600 amendments registered by 59 representatives. Consequently, the bill’s approval within the commission was presented as a prudent solution to address its “urgent” implementation. Earlier, a member of the Assembly’s Legal and Judicial Commission emphasized the urgency of addressing the matter, given the worsening situation, to avert an irreversible crisis that could potentially engulf the nation.
The enforcement of these laws involves a significant technological dimension, with cyberspace playing a pivotal role. The sharing of videos and photos underscores the importance of adhering to hijab regulations. To ensure widespread adherence, the Basij organization has been tasked with educating its members, referred to as Basijis, to instill the principles of encouraging good behavior and discouraging wrongdoing. This preparation empowers them to address situations involving individuals who do not adhere to hijab requirements, both in physical and virtual environments.
In addition to this alarming technological emphasis, an invasive system has been imposed, enabling citizens to denounce cases of women deviating from the mandated veil standards by submitting visual proof. This regressive approach exploits technology to expedite the enforcement of hijab laws, intensifying the severity of control mechanisms.
Scrutiny about the use of AI and other forms of technology is significant. There are serious right to privacy concerns woven into many layers of the bill itself. In scenarios involving the public application of AI, the likelihood of misuse becomes all but inevitable. The utilization of AI technology also raises concerns about its potential to impede the principle of free speech, potentially enabling control over Iranians’ online experiences. This concern is amplified by the absence of well-defined data privacy laws in Iran, potentially granting the Iranian government access to individuals’ private lives.
Evidently, the Iranian government prioritizes censorship and surveillance, demonstrating a willingness to employ extensive measures to monitor citizens, particularly targeting women. The internet stands as a vital sanctuary for many, offering a space where they can openly share and articulate their thoughts. An Iranian journalist conveyed to HRA: “Technology could potentially become a tool of oppression. Surveillance cameras, drones, and AI systems might monitor our every move, further limiting our freedoms.”
The amendments also detail penalties for businesses that fail to comply with these regulations. Article 41 outlines that a third-degree cash penalty or an amount equivalent to three months of profits from the business’s income may be imposed. This includes online activists who may run afoul of the rules. Furthermore, Article 45 pertains to the import, production, distribution, or sale of prohibited clothing items. The penalty outlined here consists of a fourth-degree cash penalty or an amount twice the customary value of the involved property. For repeat violations, the penalty can escalate up to a third-degree cash penalty or four times the customary value of the property.
Gender segregation has taken a central role in the new law, encompassing various aspects. The law advocates for the expansion of women’s universities and campuses. Moreover, hospitals and health centers are directed to uphold Sharia privacy boundaries between male and female employees and establish distinct environments for medical services. A female doctor expressed to HRA her viewpoints on the bill stating, ‘Medicine is about healing, without bias. This bill introduces a bias, evaluating us not for our skills but our attire’ and ‘Every day, as I don my white coat, the bill reminds me that I’m judged not for my competence but compliance’ Article 18 further mandates municipalities and village administrators not only to promote hijab awareness but also to enforce gender segregation within parks, reserving a minimum of twenty percent of such areas for women’s use. In coastal cities, these entities are additionally required to construct segregated swimming areas and address environmental health concerns along the shorelines.
Speaking with HRA, a university student remarked ‘The recent hijab bill leaves me deeply dismayed and heartbroken. Our prolonged and passionate protests seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. A progressive future I had envisioned for our country feels farther away now.’’
In summary, the recent amendments to Iran’s hijab laws signify more severe penalties for noncompliance, extending to various facets of public life, supported by technological initiatives and specific punitive measures for businesses. These amendments underscore the government’s resolve to enforce stricter adherence to the hijab regulations in both physical and virtual domains.
Public Opinion of Officials
Despite the stringent nature of the bill, there are parliamentary members and other government officials who perceive it as insufficiently robust. For instance, Javad Mojtahed Shabestari, a Member of the Assembly of Experts, emphasized the need to consider the perspectives of clerics and academic elites. He also called for the inclusion of viewpoints from hijab and cultural activists. Ali Moalemi, the Representative of Mazandaran Province in the Assembly of Leadership Experts and Friday Imam of Qaim Shahr, deemed the penalties to be inadequate. He advocated for corporal punishment, specifically whipping, instead of fines. Hasan Norouzi, the Vice Chairman of the Judicial and Legal Committee of the Parliament, opined that, in general, the bill demonstrated a lack of strength and favored individuals who do not adhere to the principles of Hijab.
Conversely, several parliamentary members firmly endorse the bill and are eager for its swift implementation. Mohammad Hossein Farhandi, a parliament member, expressed, “Our concern lies in anticipating the approval and subsequent enactment of this bill.” Mohammad Rashidi, another parliament member, asserted, “We should aim to promote observance of hijab, especially among the youth, by generating content that emphasizes modesty and hijab.” A comprehensive list of such endorsements can be found in the annex to this report.
Entities Responsible for Implementing the Legislation
HRA, through careful examination of the bill, has successfully identified several ministries that will be responsible for carrying out crucial executive functions. These ministries cover various aspects of society, such as Education, Industries and Mines, Interior, Science, Research, and Technology, among others that are listed below. According to Chapter 2, Article 4 of the newly introduced bill, all the aforementioned institutions have a mandate to incorporate Islamic values into their educational efforts, particularly emphasizing the significance of marital commitment and cultivating a culture of modesty and hijab. Collaboration with Islamic Propaganda Organizations is expected in order to develop and implement programs aimed at promoting a ‘family-oriented Islamic Lifestyle’ and fostering the values of modesty and hijab.
With the bill now soon to be enacted, each institution will be required to formulate operational benchmarks and evaluations within a three-month timeframe. These evaluations will then be submitted to the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution for approval. This chapter also delineates specific objectives that each Ministry must adhere to.
For instance, the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology is tasked with integrating the principles of modesty and hijab within the general courses offered by universities. The Ministry is also charged with establishing and expanding dedicated university campuses for women while advancing the concept of a family-centered Islamic lifestyle.
A teacher, in a conversation with HRA said ‘I worry for my students, especially the girls. They’re at an impressionable age, and this bill sends them a message that their choices are secondary.’. He is worried that the morality police’s influence can introduce biases in the place of learning.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Trade is responsible for overseeing clothing production units, especially during the design and manufacturing phases. It is obligatory for them to support the establishment of permanent stores specializing in hijab essentials, with associated discounts on company fees. The Ministry is also mandated to ensure adherence to modesty principles and to arrange training sessions and workshops on family-oriented Islamic lifestyles and the culture of modesty and hijab for guilds seeking licensure.
Evidently, the comprehensive scope of the new bill encompasses various sectors of society. Numerous ministries are compelled to take proactive steps as outlined by the bill, and are deeply involved in promoting its principles within their respective domains of operation.