Outcry over whipping of Iranian woman Roya Heshmati for not wearing headscarf

A woman shops for hijab at a market in Jakarta. Picture: Reuters

A woman shops for hijab at a market in Jakarta. Picture: Reuters

Published Jan 9, 2024


The recent whipping of Roya Heshmati in Iran has ignited a wave of international outrage and condemnation. According to EuroNews, Heshmati, 23, faced a brutal punishment for challenging strict dress codes, sparking discussions about human rights and the oppressive measures in the country.

Heshmati's lawyer, Mazyar Tataei, revealed that she was detained by morality police in April 2023, leading to a controversial legal process.

Initially sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison, a fine of 112,500,000 rials (R49,720), and 148 lashes, a review reduced the penalty to 12,500,000 rials (R5,520) and 74 lashes. Outrage ensued over the severity of the punishment for what was deemed as "behaviours outside the norm".

Sharing her ordeal on Instagram, Heshmati detailed her experience, including her defiance in court by removing her headscarf and the subsequent brutal treatment. She described being shackled to a bed in a room resembling a "gruesome" medieval torture chamber and whispered words of resistance as lashes rained down upon her.

Mizan News Agency, affiliated with Iran's judiciary, mentioned her "inappropriate condition" on the streets, likely referring to an image of her without a headscarf. The incident sparked global condemnation, with figures like Zahra Rahnavard denouncing the "violence and brutality" of the authorities.

In response to the widespread reactions, Heshmati expressed gratitude for the solidarity but emphasised her desire for privacy. She clarified that she is not a public figure and voluntarily deactivated her social media accounts to avoid controversy.

Iran has a long history of women’s rights activism, and Iranian women have been at the forefront of political protest and change since the beginning of the 20th century.

According to the Iranian non-profit, The Women's Committee of Iran the Iranian Constitution, “co-opted by the misogynistic regime, perpetuates a perverse and archaic interpretation of Islam as a means of subjugating women”.

The most prevalent and immediately apparent form of state-sponsored violence against women in Iran is the compulsory wearing of the Hijab. Women are required to wear a headscarf and a long coat that covers their body in public places.

Failure to comply with the dress code has led to women being arrested, lashed, and in some cases, killed. The regime also dictates women’s eligibility for jobs, legal age of marriage, travelling abroad, and divorce, all of which are only permitted by the husband/male guardian.

The September 2022 death of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the country’s morality police has sparked protests across the country. These protests have become one of the greatest challenges to Iran’s political establishment since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.