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‘Gender apartheid’: UN experts denounce Iran’s proposed hijab law

A new draft law that would enshrine harsh punishments for women and girls who fail to wear a hijab in Iran could amount to “gender apartheid,” UN experts said in a statement on Friday.

“The draft law could be described as a form of gender apartheid, as authorities appear to be governing through systemic discrimination with the intention of suppressing women and girls into total submission,” the experts said.

The proposed legislation, which is currently under review by the Iranian parliament, would establish harsh penalties for women who refuse to wear the veil – including long jail sentences.

The 70-article draft law also proposes stiff new penalties for celebrities and businesses who flout the rules and the use of artificial intelligence to identify women in breach of the dress code.

The UN experts argue that both the new law and existing restrictions “are inherently discriminatory and may amount to gender persecution.”

The UN’s panel of experts includes several special rapporteurs, and a working group focused on discrimination against women and girls.

“The weaponisation of ‘public morals’ to deny women and girls their freedom of expression is deeply disempowering and will entrench and expand gender discrimination and marginalisation, with wider negative consequences for children and society as a whole,” the experts said.

The draft law came under review by Iranian authorities just weeks ahead of the one-year anniversary of the mass protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who died after being stopped by Iran’s morality police in Tehran.

The 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman died last September after being detained by the regime’s infamous morality police and taken to a “re-education center,” allegedly for not abiding by the country’s conservative dress code.

“After months of nationwide protests over the death of Jina Mahsa Amini and against restrictive veiling laws, the authorities have introduced a tiered system of punishments targeting women and girls,” the UN experts said.

According to the UN, the legislation was submitted to parliament by the government and the judiciary on May 21. After making several amendments that increased the severity of punishment, on August 13, parliament voted in favor of allowing a parliamentary committee to review it without public debate, the UN said.

“We urge authorities to reconsider the compulsory hijab legislation in compliance with international human rights law, and to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights for all women and girls in Iran,” the UN experts said.

The new bill would reclassify failure to wear the hijab as a more severe offense, punishable by a five-to-10-year prison sentence as well as a higher fine of up to 360 million Iranian rials ($8,508). Previously, those who breached the dress code faced between 10 days to two months in prison, or a fine between 50,000 to 500,000 Iranian rials, what is today between $1.18 to $11.82.

Another section states that Iranian police must “create and strengthen AI systems to identify perpetrators of illegal behavior using tools such as fixed and mobile cameras.”

Business owners who do not enforce the hijab requirement will face steeper fines, potentially amounting to three months’ of their business profit, and face bans on leaving the country or participating in public or cyberactivity for up to two years.

Celebrities may face a fine of up to a tenth of their wealth, exclusion from employment or professional activities for a specified period of time, as well as a ban on international travel and social media, if they fail to comply.

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