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09/10/2023 English

HRC54 Side Event with ARTICLE 19 & IHRDC: Statement from Skylar Thompson

Statement from HRANA’s Skylar Thompson, from side event “A YEAR OF THE WOMAN, LIFE, FREEDOM MOVEMENT: Crackdown on Dissent and the State of Women’s Rights in Iran”. Find our recap of the 54th session of the Human Rights Council for more information.

Thank you to IHRDC for inviting me to be on this panel today. It’s always really an honor to be here, but this week, especially, it’s really, really an honor to speak on this topic. I think I would be, you know, remiss to mention that the topic I’m going to talk about really is closely linked to the death and detention of Mahsa Jina Amini, and that is the introduction of the new hijab bill in Iran.

Effectively, what this bill does is it really reinforces the mandate of the morality police that were responsible for the arrest and detention of Mahsa. I should be clear that the bill, it doesn’t actually, you know, deal with the morality police, but what it does is places the authority of intelligence organizations, police, and the Basij to involve themselves in the lives of women, girls, and the men that support them in public, private, physical, and digital spaces.

The bill compels women to adhere to strict dress codes and infringing upon their personal choices and freedom of expression. Despite the widespread calls against this enforcement, not only dating back to that protest that broke out after Mahsa’s death but for decades, the bill further symbolizes a broader pattern of gender inequality within a legal framework that my colleague, Gissou, who touched on quite well, so I won’t go into that, but it also reinforces discriminatory practices against women that are deeply embedded into the domestic judicial system.

The bill imposes harsh punishments for those who fail to comply, and I’ll get into those in a bit. Additionally, it has a strong focus on gender segregation in society. It touches on segregating gender in parks, in schools, and even in treatment centers of hospitals. Throughout the bill, 70 articles that have been expanded from the original 15 detail a variety of ways that the IRGC, intelligence organizations, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Intelligence Organization of the Police, the Basij, the police command, and the command of enjoining good and forbidding wrong, shall proceed with confronting women in what are deemed (and I quote this from the bill) “field confrontations.”

According to the bill, and depending on the agency of those listed above, these field confrontations should occur in a woman’s vehicle, on her way to work, in cyberspace, in stores, in her place of work. The list goes on. The expanded power of the Basij, in particular, under the bill is incredibly concerning, as historically this group has played a volunteer role under the IRGC’s command.

The bill has granted them a significantly enhanced law enforcement role, essentially allowing the group to act as a moral police, not dissimilar to the morality police that detained and arrested Mahsa. But it’s giving them sweeping powers, touching facets of daily life. Every facet of daily life, excuse me. They would now, after the implementation of the bill, be authorized to surveil and control diverse environments like those listed above, but in addition, administrative areas, educational institutions, commercial spaces, and again, even online platforms.

It really creates a very unprecedented time in Iran that grants this group a lot of control over society. In Article 32 of the bill, the Basij have been instructed to “confront people without hijab in both real and again virtual places.”

I think just going back to some of the things that you said, one thing that we can learn and draw on from this expanded role of the Basij is that it does simultaneously expand opportunities for accountability for these individuals as well. It’s important to monitor their behavior as the bill is implemented. The field confrontations that I discussed above, as and as are outlined in the bill, essentially, they refer to the ability to confront a woman wherever she may be regarding the state of her appearance, not only in the physical space but again, and I keep coming back to this because it’s incredibly important, in the virtual space. It’s also about how the person vested with this authority interprets how she’s behaving in the virtual space.

The language of the bill is incredibly vague, and that’s on purpose. A woman can like something on social media, and if that is interpreted to not be in compliance, she is susceptible to punishment. This is concerning, especially in a state where, like we’ve heard previously, there are incredible due process concerns.

There are a range of articles that deal with mechanisms of monitoring this behavior. I’ll just go through two as an example, but of course, as I mentioned, it’s incredibly long, so I won’t bore you with the sort of heinous details.

At Article 36, the bill states anyone who has been trained by the Islamic Republic’s law enforcement command and has received a certificate, as well as “all officers,” can again record individuals not adhering to the Islamic hijab or Islamic dress. They can send these recordings to a dedicated system set up by the law enforcement command of the Islamic Republic.

In Article 26, intelligence organizations are tasked with monitoring activities in virtual and non-virtual spaces related to the sending of photos and videos in opposition of the hijab. The penalties for failure to comply under the bill are disproportionate, to say the least. They range from fines. Many of the penalties within the bill are monetary penalties, and they compound upon one another, so they begin small and they get worse and worse. They’re also different for public-facing figures. For a celebrity, so to say, we start to talk about the percentage of assets. We also have travel bans, bans on online activity, bans on professional activity. Again, in the cases of athletes and celebrities, there are also prison sentences, and the list goes on.

I mentioned before that the bill has very vague language, and that’s a concern because it’s seemingly purposeful to allow for maximum interpretation. And when we’re dealing with a state like Iran, this is something that I think should be monitored quite heavily.

The due process concerns have been, I think, quite adequately covered by Dr. Rehman, but I just think it’s important to point out that when we’re speaking about this type of legislation, the due process concerns are something that really need to be highlighted because when you have a woman that is coming into contact with this type of legislation, a woman or perhaps a man that has supported her or anything like this, it’s likely that they’re not going to be granted a fair trial, so you have violations compounding upon one another even before the bill has been implemented. We’ve seen judges already sentencing women, particularly in the last couple of months, to some of the harshest sentences we’ve seen for improper hijab. They’re sentenced to psychiatric care, judges calling women that fail to comply to proper hijab women who have diseases and things of that nature.

I think just as an end note, speaking about this topic, we can talk about where it sits now, and that’s that it’s been expedited through the parliament, sort of similar to if you were calling this room the Cyber bill that we talked about some months ago, and I’m sure my colleague Mahsa will talk about as well, but she might not reference it since, you know, it’s past. But that’s her specialty.

But it’s now sitting with a council of 12 appointed men waiting for approval. So I’ll stop there.