A video showing morality police in Iran forcefully seizing a woman over her appearance has highlighted the tactics of those official enforcers of Iran's strict Islamic dress code, which became obligatory after the 1979 revolution.
An official statement quoted by local media said that Iran’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, has ordered an investigation into the incident, which sent the woman into hysterics over her rough treatment.
"Why such a violent arrest? For not wearing a hijab?" one voice asks the female officer who initially grabs the woman, in reference to the mandatory covering of head and hair with an Islamic head scarf.
The official statement described the treatment of the woman as “unusual.”
But Iranians on social media have challenged that claim, suggesting that there is nothing unusual about police use of physical and verbal violence against women accused of failing to respect the dress code.
I was personally told by a [police] officer at the Saee Park [in Tehran], “Go to the zoo among the animals, you belong there."
Over the past four decades, tens of thousands of women have been harassed, detained, fined, or even sentenced to jail terms for being insufficiently covered.
Women frequently push the boundaries by donning smaller scarves that reveal their hair or wearing shorter coats.
More recently, dozens have launched public protests against the compulsory hijab since December by removing head scarves in the streets of Tehran and other cities. In February, police said that 29 women who took part in anti-hijab protests had been arrested.
In the video, which prompted widespread outrage after it spread on social media, a policewoman is seen roughly treating a woman who is wearing a loose red shawl that fails to cover all her hair, as required by law.
The two first engage in a verbal dispute. Insults are exchanged. Then the police officer is seen pushing the woman to the ground and striking her while the woman’s friends appear to try to help her.
“Let her go!” they say. The woman is also heard screaming: “Let me go! Let me go!”
The woman is later seen lying on the ground, with one of her friends saying, “Her heart hurts.”
The date of the incident, which reportedly took place in a park in the Iranian capital, is not clear. The video was first posted on social media by exiled Iranian journalist and RFE/RL's Radio Farda contributor Masih Alinejad, who campaigns from abroad against the compulsory hijab.
Vice President Massoumeh Ebtekar and the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Presidential Office, Shahindokht Molaverdi, condemned the attack on Twitter, which is blocked by Iranian authorities under the country's restrictive media and digital policies.
“I categorically condemn this behavior and will pursue the matter. No human deserves these harsh and antireligious behaviors,” Ebtekar vowed in a tweet.
The impression that such rough treatment was unusual was quickly challenged by Maryam Shariatmadari, one of the so-called Girls of Revolution Street who faced arrest after peacefully protesting the compulsory hijab in public by removing their head scarves and waving them on sticks.
Shariatmadri, 32, was reportedly injured after being pushed off a utility box in Tehran by the police. She was later sentenced to one year in prison for “encouraging corruption by removing her hijab."
“Mrs. Ebtekar, I was injured after being beaten up by the police,” Shariatmadari wrote on Twitter in reaction to Ebtekar’s comments.
Other women took to Twitter to share their own experiences at the hands of Iran's morality police.
“I was personally told by a [police] officer at the Saee Park [in Tehran], “Go to the zoo among the animals, you belong there,” one user tweeted.
“I was detained at [Tehran’s] Vanak Square for being guilty of having left the button of my long coat open, which revealed my short manteaux under it,” journalist and women’s rights activist Taraneh Baniyaghoub tweeted, adding that she missed an exam as a result.
“Every time I pass the morality police, I’m filled with hatred, every time," she said.
“I had been beaten up quite a lot. But at the Vozara [police station] I was told that if I don’t want to spend the night there, I have to write that I don’t have any complaint and I’m leaving with full satisfaction,” journalist Fatemeh Jamalpour tweeted alongside the hashtag #moralitypolice in Persian.
A female member of Tehran’s city council was also among those criticizing the morality police.
“For years, we have invaded citizens’ privacy with the morality police and hurt them physically and psychologically without any positive results,” Nahid Khodakarami asked on Twitter. “At what point do we accept failure and change course?”
The latest video of the morality police in action comes amid increased criticism of the compulsory hijab, fueled in part by the anti-hijab protesters who believe women should be able to decide about their appearance.
Crackdowns on the dress code frequently intensify in Iran with the onset of warmer weather.