In 2014, a series of acid attacks against women in the Iranian city of Isfahan convulsed the nation. The assaults involved unidentified men flinging acid into the faces of women with whom they had no history of personal grudges. At least 14 attacks have been reported, and eyewitnesses have stated the assailants proclaimed they were defending hijab (Islamic female dress) during the attacks.
No one has been charged in any of the assaults. This Briefing Paper by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran argues that these attacks have not occurred in a vacuum. Rather, they have taken place in the context of state policies, Parliamentary legislation, and official pronouncements by high-level state officials and government-affiliated clerics that have created a climate conducive to such violence.
Pending bills such as the Plan to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice not only mandate ultraconservative notions of female dress and behavior for all Iranian women, but also call for citizen enforcement of the Plan, explicitly naming the Revolutionary Guard’s Basij militias as the enforcers of proper hijab. Hardline officials justify such policies not only on ideological grounds, but also on the basis of national security imperatives, in which hijab is a bellwether issue reflecting their hold on power.
Yet these policies have encouraged vigilante violence by radical groups who are now empowered to address “violators,” creating fertile ground for the acid attacks. This Briefing Paper details the pending legislation, state initiatives, and official statements that have not only violated the rights of Iranian women, but have also profoundly endangered their continued safety. It presents a series of recommendations to the authorities in Iran aimed at preventing further violence against women in Iran.