20-year prison sentence for Iranian women’s rights activist

According to official records, 3.6 million cases of police warnings against Iranian women due to the ‘bad hijab’ were logged in 2014.

Protesters support Iranian women's rights (photo credit: REUTERS)
Protesters support Iranian women's rights
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Shaparak Shajarizdadeh, who has been arrested twice for peacefully protesting the compulsory Hijab law of Iran’s Islamic regime, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Branch 1089 of Tehran’s Criminal Court on Saturday. Her crime is symbolically protesting the forced hijab by means of waving her scarf on a stick in Gheytariyeh, north of Tehran on February 21.
She also had been brutally arrested a second time for walking unveiled with her son in Kashan on May 8.
According to Masih Alinejad, an Iranian women’s right activist and journalist based in New York, Shajarizadeh has received a two-year mandatory prison sentence and an 18-year suspended sentence during which, according to Shaparak, she can’t do any kind of activity which would return her to prison to serve the remaining 18 years from 2021.
In addition to Shajarizdadeh, her lawyer, Iranian human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, was also prosecuted. Sotoudeh has been in police custody since June 13 and is facing charges that include “spreading propaganda against the system” due to his having defended women who had peacefully protested against compulsory veiling with a hijab.
In 2017, Shajarizadeh and many other Iranian women joined a social media campaign against the law which forces women to wear headscarfs in Iran. As part of the campaign, citizens were using the hashtag #WhiteWednesdays to post pictures and videos while wearing white headscarves or pieces of white clothing as symbols of protest. In December, the protest was intensified by 31-year-old Vida Movahed who waved her headscarf on a stick while was standing on a platform in Tehran.
 Following that move, other citizens and women’s rights activists such as Maryam Shariatmadari, Azam Jangravi and Narges Hosseini joined the protest in a similar fashion and were brutally arrested by security forces. These protesters were later nicknamed #GirlsOfRevolutionStreet in social media. Dozens of other people joined the protests until the regime issued heavy sentences for 29 women.
Since the first day of its existence, the Islamic regime has imposed restrictions on Iranian women, such as forcing them to wear hijabs. This is due to women’s freedom being one of the most significant signs of respect for women’s rights by the Pahlavi government prior the Islamic Revolution.
Hostility of Shia clergy towards women’s freedom goes back to January 8, 1936, when Reza Shah Pahlavi, the father of modern Iran, issued a decree known as “Kashf-e hijab” banning use of all Islamic veils such as the burqa by Iranian women, which resulted in widespread protests by Shia clerics against the reformist king.
The Islamic regime began forcing women to wear hijabs as one of fundamental bases of their existence and Islam. The freedom to choose what clothing to wear for women puts the regime at risk, which is why they have annually arrested thousands of Iranian women for wearing what they call the “bad hijab.”
According to official records, 3.6 million cases of police warnings against Iranian women due to the ‘bad hijab’ were logged in 2014. In 30,000 of the cases, women were arrested by the ‘Morality Police’ for not following the Islamic dress code.
Now, Shajarizadeh holds the record for the longest prison sentence among the 29 women originally arrested for symbolically protesting the forced hijab by standing on boxes in public places, taking off their headscarves and holding them up as flags last winter. The reason for this heavy prison sentence is because Shajarizadeh never gave up her dissident activities despite being arrested twice.
This forced the regime to act more aggressively and to severely punish her in order to send a message to Iranian women not to follow her path. Despite that, since Saturday, dozens of Iranian women have started protesting the regime’s anti-women laws in social media by posting videos of themselves dancing, under the hashtag #Dancingisnotacrime. One woman, 18-year-old gymnast Maedeh Hojabri, has been arrested for posting videos of herself dancing in her room. Before her account was blocked by Iranian authorities, Hojabri had posted around 300 videos on her Instagram account – in which she appeared without wearing the compulsory Islamic headscarf.
The writer is an Iranian defense analyst, freelance journalist, book author and historian living in exile since 2013.