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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on April 23: “We may like that dress code or we may dislike that dress code, but the laws of that society require people to respect the dress code that they establish.”

An attempt by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to defend the hijab rule and downplay human rights violations in the country has not gone down well with some Iranians.

Speaking on April 23 at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Zarif suggested that the hijab rule that became compulsory following the 1979 revolution is a cultural norm and compared it to other countries’ “dress codes.”

Under the hijab rule, many Iranian women have been physically and verbally harassed, detained, and sentenced to fines and jail terms for noncompliance.

Over the years, many Iranian women have resisted the hijab rule and pushed the boundaries by showing their hair under small scarves and also by wearing tighter and shorter coats.

In past weeks, dozens of women have staged public protests against the compulsory hijab in Tehran and other cities.

Zarif was asked by a moderator what he would say to one of the women jailed for not wearing the hijab if she was present at the event.

“If the lady was sitting here, I would tell her that every society has a dress code," Zarif responded.

“We may like that dress code or we may dislike that dress code, but the laws of that society require people to respect the dress code that they establish,” the Iranian foreign minister said.

Iranian women have been removing their head scarves in public and waving them on sticks as a sign of protest.
Iranian women have been removing their head scarves in public and waving them on sticks as a sign of protest.

“I know that you cannot even enter McDonald’s without a T-shirt on. That’s a -- that’s a dress code. I do not want to minimize that, but you should not oversensationalize it. The fact is there is a dress code. Women in Iran participate in social life, participate in political life, participate in educational life,” Zarif said.

He was challenged on social media by Iranians, including Maryam Shariatmadari, one of the young women who recently challenged the hijab rule by removing her scarf in public and waving it on a stick while standing on a utility box on a busy street in Tehran.

Shariatmadari, who was pushed down from the utility box by a police officer, was detained and sentenced to one year in prison, pending appeal.

“Forced hijab is not a culture, it’s a law, and we protest against it,” Shariatmadari tweeted on April 24 in reaction to Zarif.

“Unfortunately Iranian officials, like you, are reluctant to hear this objection,” she added.

The Iranian foreign minister also played down state mistreatment of the Baha’is in Iran. Many followers of the Baha’i faith have been either expelled or banned from higher education, their businesses shut down, and their cemeteries desecrated.

Dozens of them have been harassed and jailed over their religious beliefs.

When pressed on the Baha’is, Zarif noted that the Islamic republic does not recognize the Baha’i faith as a religion.

“Being a Baha’i is not a crime,” he added. “Somebody can be agnostic, somebody can be an atheist. We don’t take them to prison because they are an atheist. So this is the difference that you need to make. But being -- also, being a Baha’i does not immunize somebody from being prosecuted for offenses that people may commit."

Many questioned his claim by highlighting rights violations against Baha’is, including against Iranian playwright and actress Shabnam Tolouei.

“Dear Mr @JZarif , recently you said that being #Bahai is not a crime in Iran. Pls let me know why I was forbidden to continue my artistic career in Iran as soon as I responded honestly to the security service about my religion -Bahai faith?” Tolouei wrote on twitter.

“Mr, Zarif, now [that you say] being Baha’i is not a crime, please tell us why me and thousands of other Baha’is are not allowed to study at [Iran’s] official universities? Why are Baha’i businesses being closed all the time in Iran? For what ‘crime’ was my grandfather, a simple farmer, executed by firing squad in 1979?” User Sepehr Atefi asked Zarif on Twitter.

Amid the backlash, some Iranians used the hashtag #ProudofZarif to express support for the Iranian foreign minister, who was widely praised in 2015 for negotiating the nuclear deal with world powers.

Zarif was also widely criticized in 2015 for claiming that Iran does not jail people for their opinions.

In the 41-second video, Romany men and women are seen fleeing, some of them with children in tow, and shouting for help while being pursued by apparent C14 members.

KYIV -- When a Romany camp in the Ukrainian capital was attacked and burned by far-right nationalists, the police downplayed it, saying the men had merely set alight their "rubbish" and had no reason to investigate.

Then a video showing masked attackers throwing rocks and spraying gas as they chased terrified Romany men, women, and children from their makeshift settlement went viral.

Now, after public outcry, Kyiv police say they have launched an investigation into a possible infringement of those families' human rights and hooliganism -- a catch-all term that has been used by the authorities to describe crimes ranging from baring one's buttocks in public to firing a rocket-propelled grenade at a business center.

"Attacking women and children, threatening them, gassing them with tear gas, spoiling their property, and generally treating them like animals due to ethnicity is medieval savagery," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a rare example of public condemnation of a radical nationalist group's activities.

Under Avakov, the Interior Ministry has appointed members of nationalist groups with far-right views to senior positions and ignored instances when those groups have used violence.

The Romany camp at Kyiv's Lysa Hora nature reserve was attacked overnight on April 20-21 by more than a dozen members of the far-right nationalist group C14. The group takes its name from a 14-word phrase used by white supremacists and it has openly offered to work as thugs in exchange for cash.

Serhiy Mazur, a prominent C14 member, boasted of the attack the same day in a widely shared Facebook post that included a photograph of a man dressed in a C14 jacket standing beside a burning tent. (The image has been removed from Facebook, but you can see it in the tweet below.)

In its own Facebook post, Amnesty International Ukraine said that was "proof" that the group knows it enjoys "full impunity." It demanded an official reaction from Ukrainian authorities and "an urgent and effective investigation of the attack."

Yet despite the photographic evidence from C14 itself, the head of the Kyiv police, Andriy Kryshchenko, insisted in an interview with the 112 TV channel that only trash at the camp had been burned. He said his office had not received statements from the Romany group about an attack and, accordingly, could not comment further on the incident or open a probe.

His comments stood in contrast to the video published by the Leviy Bereg news site on April 25 that would soon go viral. At the time of publication, it had been viewed more than 161,000 times.

In the 41-second video, Romany men and women are seen fleeing, some of them with children in tow, and shouting for help while being pursued by apparent C14 members who hurl stones and spray them with a substance Avakov said later was tear gas. One man waves a tree branch in an attempt to keep the masked attackers back. Someone shouts that the police have been called.

The Kyiv police acknowledged in a statement that the viral video provided the basis for opening an investigation.

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