Woman branded hero for removing hijab during anti-government protests in Iran

Girl of Enghelab Street: Iranian woman who stood in Tehran street without a hijab released from custody, says lawyer

The woman who became a figurehead for the protests in Iran is said to have been freed after her stand against Iran's Islamic clothing laws attracted worldwide attention

Adam Lusher
Monday 29 January 2018 16:30
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A woman who became a figurehead for protests in Iran after standing in a busy Tehran street without a headscarf has been released from custody, a prominent human rights lawyer has said.

Images of the “Girl of Enghelab Street” flashed around the world after she was filmed standing defiantly bare-headed while waving her white headscarf during a December 27 “white Wednesday” protest against Iran’s female clothing rules.

A day later economic and political protests broke out all over Iran, causing many to question what had become of the woman who removed her headscarf.

It was reported she had been arrested at the scene of her protest, prompting thousands of social media users to post either a Persian hashtag demanding to know her whereabouts or the English equivalents #where_is_she and #WhereIsShe.

The Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who took up the case of the Girl of Enghelab Street, has now posted on her Facebook page that the woman has been released.

Ms Sotoudeh said that when she went to the prosecutor's office to continue her enquiries about the woman's case, she was told she had been released the day before.

Ms Sotoudeh, who has herself previously been jailed by the Iranian government, announced on Facebook: “The girl of the Enghelab Avenue has been released.

“I hope they don't fabricate a legal case to harm her for using her basic rights. She has not done anything wrong to deserve prosecution. Hands off her please."

There has been no official identification of the “Girl of Enghelab Street”, but social media users in Iran have said she is Vida Movahed, a 31-year-old with a 20-month-old daughter.

Ms Sotoudeh had previously claimed that the woman’s protest seemed to show someone "at the end of their tether because of all the controls placed on her body over the 31 years of her life".

Under Iranian laws that have been in place since the 1979 revolution, women are required to wear a headscarf in public, as well as long clothes covering the arms and legs.

Failure to comply can result in a fine of up to 500,000 rials (£9.50) and up to two months in prison.

Speaking while the Girl of Enghelab Street was still thought to be in custody, however, Ms Sotoudeh claimed that in some cases, Iranian law enforcement also meted out unofficial punishment beatings.

Ms Sotoudeh told AFP: "Before even being tried by legal authorities, (women) are taken to a place where they can be harshly beaten up. Whether a case is opened for them or not is not important.

"The illegal punishment they have had to bear has always been much more than what is foreseen in the law."

Two days after the White Wednesday protest, however, there appeared to be some relaxation of the rules, with Tehran police saying they would not arrest women who failed to observe the Islamic dress code.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency said violators will instead be made to attend classes given by police.

Tasnim also stressed that repeat offenders could still be subject to legal action, and that the dress code laws would remain unaltered outside Tehran.

The move was interpreted as an attempt to placate the young and reform-minded Iranians who had helped re-elect President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate in 2017.

It was, however, unclear to what extent the change would be implemented, because conservatives likely to oppose the easing of such rules are thought to remain powerful within Iran’s security forces and judiciary.

The controversy over the “Girl of Enghelab Street” comes at a sensitive time for Iran, both domestically and in terms of foreign scrutiny of its human rights record.

There has been widespread protest in the UK over the continued detention of British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is being held on charges of threatening Iranian security, despite her husband and many others saying she is an innocent charity worker.

There has also been widespread condemnation of the death sentence passed on Ahmadreza Djalali, a Sweden-based Iranian national who taught emergency medicine and who was arrested on a business trip to Tehran and accused of spying for Israel.

Dr Djalali has said he was forced to sign a confession, and one of his academic colleagues, Caroline Pauwels, rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), described his treatment as “an outrageous violation of universal human rights [against] a scientist performing important humanitarian work.”

Iran has maintained that prisoners including Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe have been treated “according to the due judicial process”.

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