Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has accused foreign "enemies" of funding recent protests over the compulsory hijab.
Khamenei's remarks in a March 8 speech were his most extensive public comments on a series of peaceful acts of protest in which dozens of women have removed their head scarves in public and waved them on sticks.
"As a result, some girls were deceived and removed their veil here and there," Khamenei said.
He dismissed the protests as a “small issue," but added: “What I find worrying is that some of the elite are now questioning the mandatory hijab.”
Khamenei said that some of the country’s “journalists, intellectuals, and clerics” may be “unknowingly” following "the path of the enemy.”
Earlier this year, Iranian authorities announced they had detained 29 women who had removed their head scarves as part of a campaign against the country's mandatory Islamic dress code.
The dress code, which requires women to cover their hair and body in public, became compulsory following the 1979 revolution that ended the largely secular rule of the Western-backed shah and set up a political system dominated by a clerical establishment.
Women who challenge the rule face harassment, fines and prison terms.
This week, prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said that a woman who removed her head scarf in public has been sentenced to two years in prison for attempting to "encourage corruption through the removal of the hijab in public."
Khamenei defended the dress code, asserting that the hijab provides women with “immunity.”