Iranian officials on Saturday denied a report published by Canada' National Post on Friday that said a new dress-code law was passed last week mandating the government to make sure that religious minorities - Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians - adopted distinct color schemes to make them identifiable in public. Actually, the bill only received preliminary approval in Monday's vote.
The National Post quoted Iranian exiles saying the bill would require Jews to wear a yellow strip of cloth sewn into their clothes, Christians to have a red one and Zoroastrians to wear blue. A copy of the bill received by The Associated Press on Saturday makes no mention of minorities.
On Saturday, the National Post Web site had an article casting doubt on the original report. It cited the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa denying the report and quoted Iranian exiles saying the bill did not appear to have such measures.
The National Post cited experts saying that the idea of religious demarcation had only arisen in a discussion on defining Iranian dress code. The bill would encourage the wearing of Islamic clothing "to protect the country's Muslim identity." The paper quoted an Iranian commentator who said the idea of external identification of non-Muslim minorities was only raised as a secondary motion.
"Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in parliament. Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here," Iranian Jewish lawmaker Morris Motamed said.
Two Iranian lawmakers involved in discussions on the bill, Shariar Moshiri and Ali Riaz, said no such provisions were proposed in the parliament debate.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said any such measure would be "despicable" and carry "clear echoes of Germany under Hitler." He would not comment further, saying he didn't "have all the facts" on the bill.
The bill raised fears among women that the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is planning to crack down on social freedoms won during the previous government.
Laws in place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution require women to wear charor, meaning a headscarf to cover their hair and a long overcoat to hide their figures.
But in the past decade, enforcement has grown lax and women - particularly in Teheran - commonly wear scarves that leave almost their entire heads bare and short, form-fitting jackets instead of overcoats.
The bill makes no specific mention of women but says it aims to "encourage the public to abstain from choosing clothes that aren't appropriate to the culture of Iran."
It tasks the Culture Ministry and state media with promoting Iranian styles of dress and discouraging clothing "that does not conform with Iranian-Islamic culture." The bill would also give economic incentives to producers of Islamic-style clothing and impose tariffs on clothing imports.
The bill does not call for police or other bodies to enforce stricter styles of dress for women. In the past, religious police and paramilitary militias would castigate women in the streets if any of their hair was showing or if their clothes were too revealing, though such enforcement has been rarer in recent years.
Ardalan Parvin, a women's activist and journalist in Iran, said women wouldn't accept stepped-up enforcement.
"It is clear that this plan is designed to fight the Western dress code adopted by so many of Iran's youth," she said. "But I don't think that they can just eliminate the Western dress altogether. It's going to be very difficult."
The bill does not define the Islamic-Iranian style that it would encourage or directly impose a particular uniform, as the National Post article had suggested.
The National Post Web site did not post a correction of the original article. The National Post did not immediately respond to e-mails asking for comment, and Amir Taheri, an Iranian expert who wrote the original article, could not immediately be reached.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, acknowledged that he did not have any independent confirmation of the requirement for Jews to wear badges, but said he still believed it was passed.
"We know that the national uniform law was passed and that certain colors were selected for Jews and other minorities," he said.
"[But] if the Iranian government is going to pass such a law then they are not likely to be forthcoming about what they are doing," he said.
On Thursday, Hier wrote to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, asking the UN to investigate the bill, which he said had been discussed in the Iranian parliament, on Monday. "The law was drafted two years ago and held up in the Iranian parliament. It has now been revived and pushed forward by President Ahmadinejad," Hier said in the letter.
"Given President Ahmadinejad's record of labeling the Holocaust a myth and calling for the obliteration of the State of Israel, we must urgently take action. Now is the time for the United Nations and the international community to launch an immediate investigation, to seek clarification from the Iranians themselves on whether or not the new National Uniform Law would single out non-Muslims and require them to wear a color-coded identification patch. If that is not their intention, then let President Ahmadinejad tell the world it is not so."
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