By Parisa Hafezi
Reuters – Iranian police said on Tuesday they would launch a crackdown on "social corruption" such as women flouting Islamic dress codes, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
"In accordance with the law, the police will confront those who appear in public in an indecent and inappropriate way," Fars quoted Tehran police chief Morteza Talaei as saying. "Police will seize women with tight coats and cropped trousers."
Enforcement of strict moral codes governing women’s dress, Western music and mingling of the sexes became more lax after President Mohammad Khatami’s election in 1997 on a platform of social and political reform.
But hardliners have been clawing back these concessions since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad swept to power last year with the backing of conservative clerics and the Basij religious forces, who condemn such "un-Islamic" practices.
The Islamic dress code imposed after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution requires women to cover all their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise the shape of their bodies. Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment.
Analysts said that taking a tough line on social offences could backfire on the government just when it wants support in its standoff with the West over Iran’s nuclear programme.
"Iran is already under international pressure. A severe crackdown on social issues like the dress code could cause a popular backlash," said political analyst Saeed Leylaz.
Mina, a 17-year-old girl with heavy makeup, tight jacket and bright headscarf that barely covered her hair, said she had no intention of changing her style.
"They are so busy with international issues, they will have no time to pay attention to my improper dress," said Mina, who asked that her full name not be used.
MANY IGNORE CHADOR
Many girls, particularly in wealthier urban areas, ignore traditional head-to-toe black chadors, wearing calf-length Capri pants, tight-fitting, thigh-length coats and brightly coloured scarves pushed back to expose plenty of hair.
Some women, testing the boundaries of the law, have been seen recently with scarves slipped off while parking cars in the street, skiing or travelling to the northern Caspian coast.
The Islamic dress code is less commonly challenged in poor suburbs and rural regions.
The authorities — whose campaign starts on April 21 — tend to launch such crackdowns before the hot summer months when women like to wear lighter clothing.
Some parliamentarians, alarmed by the growing number of women wearing colourful scarves and tight coats, have criticised the clerical establishment for not acting sooner.
About 100 vigilantes gathered in front of parliament on Tuesday, demanding an official crackdown on "prostitution" — women who wear colourful headscarves and figure-hugging coats — Fars agency reported.
Talaei said the police would target taxis that carry women in "improper dress" and would sweep through popular shopping centres, where such outfits are sold. "Women who do not wear headscarves in public will also be confronted," he said.