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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (left) with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and daughter Gabriella in an undated photo

A British-Iranian charity worker who is being held at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison on sedition charges has begun another hunger strike in protest at her detention.

Forty-year-old Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was refusing food as she marked her daughter's fifth birthday, her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said in a statement on June 15.

"She had informed the judiciary that she has begun a new hunger strike (she will drink water) -- to protest at her continuing unfair imprisonment," he said, adding that he plans to fast outside the Iranian Embassy in London as part of the protest.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by Iranian authorities in April 2016 as she was trying to board a plane to leave the country after taking their infant daughter to visit her family there. The couple’s daughter, Gabriella, is living with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s parents in Iran.

She was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government.

"This is something she had been threatening for a while,” Ratcliffe said. “Nazanin had vowed that if we passed Gabriella's fifth birthday with her still inside, then she would do something -- to mark to both governments -- that enough is enough. This really has gone on too long.

"Her demand from the strike, she said, is for unconditional release. She has long been eligible for it," Ratcliffe said. "I do not know the response from the Iranian authorities."

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the media group's philanthropic arm. She denies all of the charges brought against her by Iranian officials.

She previously went on hunger strike in January.

In May, the British government changed its travel advice for British-Iranian dual nationals -- warning them against all travel to Iran and citing Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case.

Based on reporting by The Guardian and AFP
Under Islamic laws enforced in Iran since the 1979 revolution, women are required to cover their hair and body in public. Today, some women have removed their scarves while driving or otherwise in public to protest the laws. (illustrative photo)

Iranians have found a new platform to fuel fresh debate over one of their society's most sensitive topics: the so-called hijab laws that oblige women to cover their bodies and hair in conservative Islamic fashion.

Reactions have come fast and furious since a Tehrani driver for the country's largest Uber-like ride-sharing enterprise, Snapp, refused to drive a woman to her destination because she allegedly disrespected the dress code.

The dispute has led to some calls for a boycott.

The incident first came to light via Twitter, when the customer complained that the Snapp driver dropped her off in the middle of a highway during a storm for "bad hijab."

The customer reportedly posted the driver's information online and suggested that Snapp had apologized to her and had even vowed to take action against the driver.

But Snapp publicly sided with the driver following criticism by hard-liners.

The woman, who tweeted under the name @poouyeh, has deleted the tweets in question and issued an apology to the driver, Snapp, and "all those whose feelings were hurt" by the incident, sparking concern that she was somehow forced to recant.

Meanwhile, in a June 9 statement, Snapp said the driver would be commended for observing the company's rules, which, it said, clearly state the "obligation to observe the Hijab."

Under Islamic laws enforced in Iran since the 1979 revolution, women are required to cover their hair and body in public and avoid tight-fitting clothing. The dress restrictions prompted immediate anger and protest four decades ago, but have remained in place.

More recently, women have increasingly pushed the boundaries by wearing small scarves or tight coats while exposing much of their hair. Some have removed their scarves while driving or otherwise in public to protest the laws.

Some self-professed customers have vowed to stop using Snapp's services over what they describe as the company's disregard for customers' rights or its endangerment of women. Others accused Snapp of "complacency" and groveling before authorities by praising the driver.

"To protest this lawlessness, I deleted the Snapp [application] from my cell phone," journalist and documentary filmmaker Fatemeh Jamalpour tweeted.

"You have to know that your cars are not the morality police," Jamalpour added, in a reference to the feared enforcers of conservative culture, attaching the hashtag #Boycott_Snapp.

The Snapp driver, Saeed Abed, appeared earlier this week on state-controlled television to give his version of the incident. He said he had fulfilled his religious duty by warning his customer to cover up.

He also said that he had told the customer that he could face police action for transporting an unveiled woman. He said he is a retiree who drives for Snapp to make ends meet.

"I told her to fix her scarf and I cited the police as a reason, apart from the fact that promoting virtue and preventing vice was an issue for me. But she told me in a very impolite manner that I should mind my own business and keep driving," Abed said.

The two argued, he said, and the woman got out of his car.

Reports suggesting that authorities had summoned the woman for questioning have not been independently confirmed, and she did not appear in the TV report.

But it quoted an "expert" suggesting that she had violated Iranian law by posting the driver's personal information online. The same expert said the driver had acted within the framework of Iranian law and in line with Islamic principles.

Abed has been praised by hard-liners, including the commander of the aerospace force of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Snapp is Iran's largest Uber-like ride-sharing enterprise.
Snapp is Iran's largest Uber-like ride-sharing enterprise.

Speaking to journalists on June 10, Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili referred to Abed as "our dear brother driver" and said that his action represented a "valuable achievement" in enforcing the Islamic principles of virtue and preventing vice.

The ultra-hard-line Kayhan daily reported that a documentary was already in the works about Abed's actions.

Meanwhile, deputy police chief Ayoub Soleimani said drivers of ride-sharing companies should warn their passengers over their hijab.

"The car owners are legally responsible.... Therefore drivers should not allow their passengers to break the law, including by removing their hijab," he said.

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