Unveiled Iran drivers to have cars impounded
TEHRAN: Iranian women who fail to wear the veil when driving will have their cars impounded for a week and are likely to be fined, police warned yesterday. In the past week, about 10,000 motorists have received warnings, with 2,000 facing further action for breaking “social norms”, but the new measure to confiscate cars will come into force nationwide. Deputy police chief Said Montazer-ol-Mehdi said officers had been authorized by prosecutors to take such steps.
If traffic police spot an unveiled woman driver or passenger, “their car will be taken to a police compound for a week”, he said, according to the official IRNA news agency. Some owners will be fined but other offenders will be referred to judicial authorities for further investigation, he added. The steps are part of a wider traffic police crackdown that could also see male drivers targeted for bad conduct. Violations could include “removal of veil inside the car, driving recklessly, parading in the streets and harassing women,” IRNA said.
When in public, all women in the Islamic republic, including foreigners, are required to wear at least a loose scarf, known as hijab, which covers the hair and neck. Since the mid-1990s, however, there has been a gradual change in the dress code. Many women wear stylish and colorful coats and headscarves and often tight trousers instead of the traditional one-piece, head-to-toe black chador. Police patrols have continued campaigns to enforce the law and the authorities also use a network of “trustees” to identify transgressors.
But in some upmarket neighborhoods of northern Tehran, a city of 12 million, it is not uncommon to see women’s scarves wrapped around their shoulders. “A number of officials, army and government chiefs and covert police agents have been given access to a system set up to report the violations,” Montazer-ol-Mehdi said of the latest campaign. “These trustees will report the license plate of violators and the cars will be flagged for further investigation.”
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused fastdriving wealthy youngsters in April of creating “psychological insecurity” on the streets after two high-speed accidents killed five people. “I hear that young people from the generation of wealth, a generation intoxicated by their money, are driving luxury cars and parading in the streets, making the streets insecure,” he said, quoted by his website.
Meanwhile, Iranian authorities have arrested administrators of more than 20 groups on the messaging app Telegram for spreading “immoral content”, semi-official Fars news agency reported yesterday, the latest detentions in a clampdown on freedom of expression. In recent weeks, Iran’s powerful hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has rounded up a number of artists, journalists and US citizens, citing fears of Western “infiltration”.
Their campaign coincides with Iran beginning the implementation of a nuclear deal signed with world powers in July, which hardliners oppose for fear it will open up Iranian society to what they see as corrupting Western influences. The Telegram groups were targeted for their “immoral content”, Montazer-ol-Mehdi was quoted as saying by Fars. He also said more than 100 “hackers” had been arrested in the past month, without giving more details.
Telegram’s Chief Executive Pavel Durov said last month that Iranian authorities had demanded he hand over “spying and censorship tools”, and temporarily blocked the app when he refused. He was later informed by Iran’s Ministry of Information that the request was “not authorized by any higher authorities”. The IRGC announced the Telegram users’ arrests last week, saying they had shared images and text “insulting to Iranian officials” as well as “satire and sexual advice”. At the time, the judiciary denied any such arrests had occurred. It has not commented on Sunday’s reports.
Last week, UN human rights investigators called on the authorities to cease arresting, harassing and prosecuting journalists and other activists to pave the way for free debate ahead of parliamentary elections in February. Under the nuclear deal, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions on its economy. Iran always denied Western suspicions it wanted to develop a nuclear weapon.
Smartphone messaging applications are highly popular in Iran, where half of the population is aged 24 or younger. The Islamic Republic has some of the strictest controls on Internet access in the world, but its blocks on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are routinely bypassed by the tech-savvy. Several branches of the security establishment monitor content, including the IRGC. Infractions on social media can result in harsh sentences from the hardline judiciary. Last year, 11 people were arrested by the IRGC for insulting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic’s founder, on messaging services WhatsApp, Tango, Viber and Telegram. Telegram, which was launched in 2013, has become popular among activists and ordinary Iranians because it is seen as being more secure than its rivals.— Agencies