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IRAN: Morality police launch crackdown on clothing and hairdos deemed un-Islamic

May 25, 2010 |  5:32 pm

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Iran's puritanical guardians of morality have stepped up their cultural war against those who dress too modern for their tastes, sharpening class and social tensions just two weeks before the anniversary of the nation's disputed presidential elections.

Days after Friday prayer leaders delivered fiery sermons in which they called for a clampdown on women dressing immodestly, morality police squads began cracking down on youngsters sporting figure-hugging outfits or hairdos deemed un-Islamic.

On Saturday, police stopped and checked 30 cars in east Tehran. Some of the vehicles were seized, and owners had to retrieve them from a police parking lot after paying fines, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported.

The news agency also published a series of photos from the first days of this year's annual anti-vice campaign, which  usually falls in the beginning of the summer when people start wearing lighter clothes in hot weather.

Images show young women with tight, colorful short coats and locks of hair showing from beneath their head scarves being stopped by police officers.

_42837343_veil202getty"They were intolerable for us and we launched our campaign on Saturday," Tehran's police chief, Hossein Sajedinia, was quoted by ILNA as saying. "According to our opinion polls, people are happy with our activities. We will keep fighting ... until we reach the desired result." 

Meanwhile, Iranian television is airing programs encouraging conservative dress. In one, shown on state TV a few days ago, a female lawmaker veiled from head to toe sat on a panel and explained her reasons why young women and men, especially university students, should adhere to Islamic dress code.

Guardian Council chief Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati even said in his Friday sermon last week that students should be advised to dress conservatively if they want good grades. 

Students who don't observe the code should be made to change into proper clothing before being allowed on campus, he added.

Twenty-two-year-old Shahlah, a law student at Payame Nour University in Tehran, told Babylon & Beyond that a black-clad, fully veiled female inspector has been patrolling the campus for the last week, making sure no hair was sticking out from head scarves and that coats weren't too tight.

Away from the bustling streets of the capital and the campuses, plainclothes members of the Basij militia were also said to be on the lookout for improper dress in the mountains above Tehran, where many youngsters go hiking on weekends.

In Darakeh, a popular hiking spot north of Tehran, one hiker said there was an unprecedented presence of police armed with batons preventing modernly dressed young girls and boys from hiking.

According to Sajedinia, police officers have been given cameras to film dress-code violators in the streets.

The clips, says the police chief, will be used as evidence against them.

"Everything is documented," ILNA quoted him as saying.  "We film the badly veiled women and keep the films and photos in their files. Then we report the cases to courts for final decision. Nobody can deny any wrongdoing."

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Stylish young women and men aren't the only ones being targeted in the crackdown. The shops that sell to them are also feeling the heat.

Ali, a storekeeper in central Tehran, told Babylon & Beyond that his shop and five other clothing stores in the area had been shut down by the morality police because they sold body-hugging short coats for women deemed provocative by the anti-vice squad. The vendors were warned by the police to sell only long coats and keep customers with daring outfits out of their stores, according to Ali.

"We were told by the moral security police to go to court and the judge will decide how much of a fine we will have to pay to reopen," he said. "From now on we can only sell [coats] with a minimum length of 110 centimeters [about 43 inches] and we must not display them in a provocative way. Boys with spiky and fashionable hair and very short sleeves ... are not allowed in our shops."


Despite the intensity of the clampdown in recent days, some doubt it will achieve much. In past years, people have simply waited for things to cool down before dressing up again.

"They can't do anything," said Saeedeh, 36, who works as a bookkeeper in downtown Tehran.  "At the most, [the morality police] can enforce Islamic hijab in the main streets. As soon as we get away from them in side streets and alleys and in our parties, we dress as it suits us."

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Middle and bottom photos: Women wearing figure-hugging outfits and showing hair from beneath their head scarves are at risk of being stopped in the annual clampdown on immodest dress in Iran. Top photo: A young woman is stopped by a police officer. Credits: Top and bottom, ILNA; middle, Getty Images

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