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The Farda Briefing: Iran Goes After Big Businesses For Alleged Hijab Violations

Iranian authorities have turned their attention to big businesses, including a major shopping mall, as they intensify their efforts to enforce the hijab.
Iranian authorities have turned their attention to big businesses, including a major shopping mall, as they intensify their efforts to enforce the hijab.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following during the past week and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

The authorities in Iran have closed hundreds of small businesses, including cafes and restaurants, in recent months for allegedly failing to enforce the country's hijab law on their customers.

In recent weeks, the authorities have turned their attention to big businesses, including a major shopping mall, as they intensify their efforts to impose the compulsory head scarf.

Tehran’s Opal Mall, which has over 450 shops and employs around 1,500 people, was shut down on April 25 for five days. One shop was closed again after appearing to offer unveiled women a 50 percent discount to celebrate the mall’s reopening on April 30. The shop later apologized.

During the Iranian month of Farvardin, which runs from March 21 to April 21, around 2,000 businesses were closed due to alleged hijab violations, according to the reformist Shargh daily.

Why It Matters: The closure of businesses is part of attempts by the authorities to enforce the hijab as more women flout the law.

Women have been emboldened by the nationwide antiestablishment protests that erupted in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini soon after she was arrested by the morality police for allegedly violating the hijab law. During the demonstrations, women and girls removed and burned their head scarves.

In April, Iranian police began to use surveillance cameras to identify and punish women who fail to comply with the mandatory hijab. Authorities have warned that offenders could face hefty fines and lose access to mobile-phone and Internet services.

Despite the new measures, some women have remained defiant, including prominent figures.

What’s Next: The authorities’ closure of businesses is likely to aggravate the economic crisis in Iran, which has witnessed soaring inflation, rising unemployment, and growing poverty in recent years.

The Shargh daily said the authorities’ policies are likely to lead to a new wave of unemployment and undermine President Ebrahim Raisi’s pledge to create more jobs.

Some Iranian lawyers, meanwhile, have questioned the legality of the government’s move to shutter businesses over the appearances of their customers. Outspoken legal scholar Mohsen Borhani accused the authorities of violating Iranian law and Islamic jurisprudence.

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Iranian authorities have arrested at least three political activists who spoke at a Clubhouse event during which rights advocates, political prisoners, and academics called for a transition to a new, democratic political system. The arrests came amid a crackdown on dissent following months of protests against the clerical establishment. One of the arrested activists, former student leader Abdollah Momeni, was released on bail over the weekend.

Iran's worsening air pollution and continued use of dirty fuels to power automobiles and industrial plants have cast a spotlight on the country's inability to enforce its own clean-air standards. But amid public anger over the deadly danger posed by the toxic smog that hangs over major cities, the government has slashed the budget for tackling air pollution, blamed international sanctions, and made middling bureaucrats the scapegoat.

What We're Watching

Workers from several industries in Iran have staged new strikes in protest of inadequate wage increases and deteriorating living conditions.

Retirees and workers from the petrochemical and mining industries have held demonstrations in recent weeks in major cities, including Isfahan and Ahvaz.

The authorities appear to have responded to the strikes by summoning workers and union leaders for questioning.

Why It Matters: The government’s failure to improve the living conditions of workers and pensioners is likely to fuel more protests and strikes.

In March, the government raised the minimum wage by some 27 percent. But with the inflation rate running at around 40 percent for the past two years, workers have demanded a bigger wage increase.

The Financial Times reported that the Statistical Center of Iran has not published the inflation rate in the past two months, fueling accusations that the authorities are trying to conceal the real figures.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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