Iranian women wearing hijab walk down a street in the capital Tehran on February 7, 2018. A spate of unprecedented protests against Iran's mandatory headscarves for women have been tiny in number, but have still reignited a debate that has preoccupied the Islamic republic since its founding.  

© 2018 ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
Iran’s latest crackdown on women has taken place in the quiet of a courtroom.

On July 31, a court in Tehran sentenced three women – including a mother and daughter – to prison for protesting laws that make wearing a hijab compulsory.

The three are among dozens arrested in the past two years for defying the government’s mandatory dress code for women.

On April 10, police arrested Yasaman Ariyani, a 23-year-old activist, at her home in Karaj, on the outskirts of Tehran. The next day, authorities also arrested Ariyani’s mother, Monireh Arabshahi, when she went to the prosecutor’s office in Tehran to look for her daughter. Two weeks later, police arrested a third woman, Mojgan Keshavarz, at her home in front of her 9-year-old daughter.

The arrests followed a video that went viral showing the three women, without headscarves, handing out flowers on a Tehran metro to women on March 8 – International Women’s Day – to encourage solidarity against the compulsory hijab. “The day will come when we won’t have to fight for our most basic rights,” Arabshahi is heard saying in the video. Ariyani is seen talking to one woman wearing the chador, a full black robe, saying she hopes one day to walk down the street with her, “me without the hijab and you with the hijab.”

On July 31, Branch 31 of Tehran’s revolutionary court sentenced all three women to five years in prison for “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” one year for “propaganda against the state,” and ten years for “encouraging and providing for [moral] corruption and prostitution.” The court sentenced Keshavarz to an additional seven-and-a-half years for “insulting the sacred.” If these sentences are upheld on appeal, the women would serve their longest sentence: ten years.

Iran has a history of imposing rules about what women can and cannot wear, in violation of their fundamental rights. In the 1930s, Reza Shah, the then-ruler, prohibited women from wearing the hijab and police were ordered to forcibly remove women’s headscarves. Following the Iranian revolution of 1979, Iranian authorities imposed a mandatory dress code requiring all women to wear the hijab.

Iranian women defied these unjust rules in each of these eras, and they are challenging them again – at enormous personal cost. It’s time for Iran’s government to respect women’s freedom to dress as they please.