Tehran tightens dress code
A POLICE offensive in Iran against women who are greeting the arrival of warm weather by showing a little more ankle than usual was reinforced yesterday with a warning of a draconian new punishment.
Saeed Mortazavi, Tehran's prosecutor, said women who repeatedly flouted the strict dress code may face a long banishment from the Iranian capital.
"Those women who appear in public like decadent models endanger the security and dignity of young men," he said. "If primary punishments are not effective, repeat violators may receive up to five years' exile from Tehran."
Since the crackdown was launched on Saturday, 3,242 people - the vast majority women - have received a warning for breaching the dress code in Tehran.
Nearly 300 were detained, but most were released after signing papers to say they would not appear "inadequately dressed in public" again. The remainder are being referred to court. Violators can be given lashes, fines and imprisonment. For the first time in years, men are also being arrested for sporting short-sleeved shirts, shorts or fashionable hairstyles. Neckties, frowned upon by Islamic hardliners as symbols of Western decadence and derided as "donkey tails", also risk a ticking off. Tourists have also been stopped by police and told to respect the country's dress code.
This year's campaign is seen as the toughest in two decades, raising fears that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the firebrand president, is attempting to turn back the hands of Iran's social clock.
The height of a woman's hemline or how much hair she allows to peep out from her mandatory headscarf is often viewed as a barometer of the regime's ability - or willingness - to control Iranian society. Newspapers are brimming with photographs of women arrested for their un-Islamic clothing while television is broadcasting nightly warnings against flouting the dress code.
But many young Iranians are determined not to give up without protest the easing of the dress code that marked the era of Mr Ahmadinejad's reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami.
On Sunday night, 2,000 men at Shiraz University in the south of Iran protested against new rules banning sleeveless T-shirts, even inside all-male dormitories and in a
Tehran shopping mall, one young man removed his trousers while a friend cheered him on. Within minutes, he was hauled off by police.
But the scale of this year's sweep has also worried some senior regime officials. They fear it might provoke a backlash at a time when Iran is under external pressure over its nuclear programme and Mr Ahmadinejad faces domestic discontent over spiralling food and housing costs.
"Dragging young men and women to police stations will only have negative social impacts," warned Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the head of Iran's hardline judiciary.
Meanwhile, a parliamentary deputy demanded to know why the police should devote so much time to arresting young people and filing court cases instead of fighting drug addiction.
Photographs were taken of those arrested to be stored on police databases and used as evidence should they reoffend.
"What they do is really insulting. You can't simply tell people what to wear. They don't understand that using force only brings hatred towards them," said Elham Mohammadi, 23, who wore a bright headscarf that covered only a fraction of her stylish hairdo.
But many hardliners are cheering on the crackdown, which was launched after a call from senior hardline clerics in the holy city of Qom to tighten the reins. "All are responsible towards the problem of inadequate dress," said Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi.
Others complained that some young women are dressed as if they have just strolled off a Western catwalk. "Men see models in the streets and ignore their own wives at home. This weakens the pillars of the family," said a hardline deputy, Mohammad Taqi Rahbar.
In recent years, many Iranian women have been pushing the code to its limits. Many sport figure-hugging jackets, jeans and bright make-up. Plastic surgery is a booming business, with post-surgery nose plasters worn as if they were status symbols.
HOLY CITY KEEPS AN EYE ON FASHION
THE holy city of Qom is Iran's foremost Shia Muslim centre of clerical learning, the spiritual centre of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and a magnet for pilgrims.
The 1,000-year-old desert city is only 90 miles from Tehran - but it might as well be a world away.
Here, no women will risk a dash of lipstick or a skimpy headscarf. The only women on Qom's dusty streets are swathed in head-to-toe baggy black chadors and they are vastly outnumbered by clerics and their students.
It is from Qom that the latest calls came from ayatollahs to crack down on those flaunting the country's strict dress code.
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