The Iranian judiciary face a fierce international response after the recent flogging of 33 year old Kurdish woman Roya Heshmati in Tehran, as condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s ongoing repression of women reignites on the global stage.
Heshmati, who received 75 lashes on 3 January, was arrested in April 2023 for posting a photo of herself on social media without the mandatory headscarf. Despite successfully challenging a 13 year sentence on several legal fronts, her lashing conviction was upheld. Heshmati refused to wear a headscarf in court.
Amnesty International said it feared that millions of other women and girls could face similar punishment for exercising their human rights until Iran’s discriminatory compulsory veiling laws are repealed.
The Paris-based Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran vehemently condemned the flogging on the “fictitious charge” of improper veiling, calling on the UN and international human and women’s rights bodies to take a firm stand against Iran’s “inhumane punishments”.
While the punishment of flogging for non-compliance with strict hijab rules was common in 1980s and 90s Iran, it has become less common over the past two decades. Critics argue that the flogging sentence was illegal, as the recent hijab law passed by parliament does not include flogging as a punishment.
Heshmati’s gave a harrowing account, posted on her now inaccessible Facebook profile, of the brutality: “The judge said, ‘Don’t hit too hard.’ The man started hitting me hard. My shoulders, my back, my buttocks, my face, my legs. I lost count of the number of lashes.”
The scene took place in what Heshmati described as a “medieval torture chamber”, complete with iron shackles and a table with a row of whips.
“Under my breath, I was reciting, in the name of woman, in the name of life, the garment of slavery has been torn, our dark night is turning into dawn, all fetters are breaking,” she recounted, referring to the ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’ (‘Woman, Life, Freedom’) movement.
The act of renouncing the headscarf has become a symbol of resistance, particularly within the Kurdish community. The ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’ slogan gained momentum in 2022, fuelled by the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, who died after a beating in custody of the Iranian morality police for not wearing a hijab properly.
Heshmati’s flogging has sparked a wave of anger on Persian social media platforms, with supporters praising her courage in rejecting the compulsory dresscode.
The judiciary defended the severity of the sentence, describing Heshmati’s actions as a violation of public chastity and morality.
An official statement published on the judiciary’s Mizan Online news website claimed that Heshmati’s conviction and flogging were linked to her ties with ‘an organised group outside Iran’, and that she had received money to publicly defy hijab rules “in a very indecent way”, allegedly to encourage others to do the same.
The statement raised questions about the motives behind the harsh sentence and the judiciary’s response to international criticism, adding another layer of controversy to an already contentious situation.