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Article Iran: Law to Protect the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab Proposed

On July 27, 2023, Iran’s Parliamentary Judicial Commission introduced substantial changes to a bill drafted last April titled the Protection of the Culture of Chastity and Hijab Law. The purpose of the proposed law is to suppress the growing movement of women in the country who defy previous rules mandating the wearing of headscarves in public by imposing new, enhanced punishments on them. These changes included not only renaming the proposed law to the Bill to Protect the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab but also expanding its sections from 15 to 70.

The Development of the Bill

On April 27, 2023, the chief justice of Iran created the proposal for the Protection of the Culture of Chastity and Hijab Law. As outlined in articles 157 and 158 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, one of the duties of the chief justice is to prepare judicial bills in line with the principles of the Islamic Republic. The proposal was submitted to the government and, on May 17, received approval from the Cabinet. A second version of the bill, replacing the original version, was sent to the Majles (parliament) on May 30 for very urgent consideration (as a “two-star bill”) and approval. (Rules of Procedure of the Islamic Parliament of Iran art. 156.) On June 13, the parliament approved the proposed law as an urgent matter (one-star bill) rather than as a very urgent matter (two-star bill) for consideration. After the Parliamentary Judicial Commission introduced substantial changes to the bill, as noted above, the new version was submitted to the presiding body of the parliament for further deliberation. Then, in accordance with article 85 of the constitution, the Majles decided to hand over its power to make decisions about this bill to the Parliamentary Judicial Commission rather than address it in a public session (as specified in article 69 of the constitution). Finally, on August 21, the Judicial Commission’s decisions were referred to the Guardian Council for ratification.

Background to the Proposed Law

The requirement for women to wear the hijab in Iran has its origins in the 1979 Islamic Revolution when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared it mandatory for women in public. Immediately afterward, it became a strict regulation under Book Five of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code. According to article 638 of the code, women who are seen in public places or on roads without wearing an Islamic hijab may face penalties ranging from 10 days to two months of imprisonment, or a fine ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 tomans (about US$0.10 to $1.00).

Additionally, article 639 states that women can be charged with prostitution or the promotion of prostitution if they refuse to wear the veil or advocate for a woman’s right to dress as she wishes. This offense carries a punishment of one to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Today, however, an increasing number of women are choosing to disregard the law and appear in public without wearing a headscarf. This trend has gained momentum, particularly since the nationwide “Women, Life, Freedom” protests triggered by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who was detained in September 2022. Amini’s arrest was based on allegations that she had violated the dress code, and her demise further amplified the defiance of the law.

Provisions of the Previous Bill Retained in the New Version

The provisions of the previous bill that were retained in the new version introduce penalties for violations related to veiling and modesty. “Partial unveiling of the body” would be subject to a maximum fine of the seventh degree, while “complete unveiling” would be subject to a maximum fine and social rights deprivation of the sixth degree. (Islamic Penal Code, bk. 1, art. 19.) In accordance with article 28 of the penal code, which states that all monetary amounts, including fines, mentioned in the code and in other laws are subject to adjustment every three years, the maximum fine for seventh degree offenses is 6 million tomans (about US$120), and for sixth degree offenses it is 24 million tomans (about US$485).

The proposed law also penalizes vehicle-related violations, leading to vehicle confiscation and fines for repeated offenses. Business owners, public venue managers, and celebrities who defied veiling rules would face fines, closures, and other penalties. Transportation companies, government employees, and teachers would be required to enforce compulsory hijab rules or face consequences. Surveillance technology would monitor compliance, and repeated violations would lead to escalating penalties. Nonpayment of fines would result in doubled fines and potential banking service suspension. The bill also includes penalties, such as monetary fines, for individuals who, under the guise of “commanding the good and forbidding the evil” — the Islamic responsibility to promote virtuous actions and discourage immoral behavior for the betterment of individuals and the society as a whole — commit criminal acts against women (“insulting, slandering, threatening, or assaulting them, or violating their privacy”) who have failed to observe the Islamic hijab.

Main Features of the New Bill

The new version of the bill emphasizes broader implementation of gender segregation in universities, government offices, parks, and the health care sector, including hospitals. The current bill is divided into five chapters. Four chapters delineate the responsibilities of agencies, organizations, ministries, and government bodies regarding mandatory hijab enforcement. Accordingly, all these entities would be obliged to review and formulate regulations and laws within their executive domain to ensure compliance with hijab rules. In the final chapter of the bill, offenses related to “hijab violation” are addressed in detail. Numerous offenses have been classified as crimes, entailing penalties such as imprisonment and fines for offenders. Prohibitions on leaving the country, passport confiscation, and deprivation of citizenship rights are also part of the stipulated penalties in this proposed law. The following are key highlights from the main body of the new bill.

Intelligence Agencies and Their Authorization for Direct Interaction with Women

Under the new bill, not only the police but also intelligence agencies, such as the Ministry of Intelligence, the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and other related entities like the Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Basij, and the Command of Enjoining Good and Forbidding Wrong, would be granted the authority to directly engage with women who do not adhere to veiling regulations. The bill would empower these agencies to monitor and prevent behaviors considered immodest, indecent, or contrary to veiling rules. This authority would extend beyond public spaces to cover vehicles, commercial areas, businesses, and virtual platforms. These agencies would be tasked with identifying individuals “promoting immodesty,” whether individually or in collaboration with foreign entities, media outlets, or dissenting groups. Additionally, individuals educated by the Command of the Islamic Republic’s Police would be responsible for photographing unveiled women and submitting these images to the police system.

Increased Punishment for Nonobservance of Veiling

The fifth chapter of the Bill to Protect the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab addresses offenses related to improper veiling, indecent dressing, and related behaviors. Penalties are defined for collaborating with foreign agencies to promote immodesty; insulting the hijab principle; and soliciting or advertising immodest work, public nudity, and improper dressing. Penalties include imprisonment and monetary fines of different levels, increasing for repeated offenses. The chapter also outlines penalties for violations related to veiling while driving, aiming to enforce strict adherence to veiling regulations and modest dressing in various related situations.

Penalties for Businesses and Occupations

Articles 41 through 46 of the new bill delineate sanctions applicable to enterprises and vocations that endorse immodesty and provide services to individuals who do not conform to veiling standards. Article 41 addresses owners who promote immodesty on their premises, imposing fines, profit forfeiture, and travel bans. Virtual immodest activities may also result in penalties or content removal. Article 45 prohibits the import, production, and sale of prohibited clothing, with escalating fines for offenses. Article 46 holds institution employees accountable for improper dressing. These employees would be monitored by supervisory units to enforce veiling rules and deter the promotion of immodesty.

Expansion of Gender Segregation and Increased Pressure on Students

The latest version of the bill introduces provisions to enhance gender segregation in public and administrative areas. Article 13 instructs the Ministry of Science to prioritize women-only universities and establish educational systems and support programs for hijab compliance. The bill includes hijab as an employment criterion in governmental and nongovernmental agencies. Article 14 extends mandatory veiling to medical science students and medical institutions and requires strict gender segregation in medical environments except in unavoidable circumstances. Article 15 requires “reviewing the continued cooperation and legal support of knowledge-based companies, science and technology parks, growth centers, innovation factories, creative houses and other centers” that in any way promote nudity, indecency, nakedness, bad clothing and acts against public modesty. Article 16 tasks the Vice Presidency for Science with formulating “codes of conduct” for researchers in innovation spaces. Article 18 obligates municipalities to promote veiling and gender segregation in parks, with a portion dedicated to women, and requires coastal cities to establish separate swimming areas for men and women.

Celebrities and Punishment for Non-Veiling

Article 43 of the new bill’s fifth chapter establishes penalties for celebrities and influential figures who defy mandatory veiling regulations. In both virtual and physical spaces, violators would face substantial fines, either 10% of their assets or a second-degree fine. They would also be barred from professional activities for six months to five years. Optionally, judges could impose travel restrictions and virtual activity bans. Previous content on social media that violated the law or encouraged unveiling would be removed, and “all granted privileges, discounts, and exemptions” would be revoked. For repeated offenses, a higher fine or 10% of assets would apply, along with a more extended ban on professional activities for five to 15 years. Travel and virtual activity bans may be imposed again, with previous noncompliant content deleted and privileges withdrawn.

Prepared by Sahar Fallah, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Tariq Ahmad, Foreign Law Specialist

Law Library of Congress, September 6, 2023

Read more Global Legal Monitor articles.

Updated September 8, 2023, to correct the spelling of “two-start” in the second paragraph to “two-star.”

Updated September 13, 2023, to revise the wording of paragraph two; to replace a dead link in the second paragraph of the “Provisions of the Previous Bill Retained in the New Version” section; and to remove an errant link in the “Intelligence Agencies and Their Authorization for Direct Interaction with Women” section.

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