Iranian police on Thursday arrested several people outside the Labor Ministry building in Tehran, blocking a rally that activists had organized to mark International Women’s Day.
Uniformed and plainclothes officers cited women for violating the Islamic dress code requiring them to cover their hair, according to the Kargari news channel, an opposition media outlet based outside Iran.
The channel described a “heavy crackdown” by police, and Iranians on social media reported large numbers of security officers in vans and motorcycles in central areas of Tehran.
Iranian authorities have sought to quell any large demonstrations in recent months, following the anti-government protests that broke out in dozens of cities in late December. Thousands were reportedly jailed as demonstrators railed against official corruption and economic mismanagement.
Outside the Labor Ministry building at midday, a Times reporter saw at least two women being detained inside a police van, and officers who were capturing video of bystanders.
One police officer grabbed a woman’s cellphone; the woman said she had come to the Labor Ministry to seek information about her unemployment insurance and demanded, “I want to call my husband!”
The arrests came a day after Iranian news media reported that a woman had been sentenced to two years in prison for participating in a growing movement opposing the Islamic Republic’s law requiring women to wear the hijab, or headscarf.
Tehran’s public prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said the woman “encouraged corruption” by removing her hijab in public, according to the official Mizan news agency.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer, identified the woman as her client, Narges Hossaini, and said she planned to appeal the verdict.
Dozens of women have been arrested since December, when a 31-year-old mother, Vida Movahedi, removed her hijab in Tehran’s Enghelab Square and waved it like a flag, sparking a social media campaign and scattered copycat protests.
Outside a French-themed coffee shop where Movahedi stood, police vans and officers were stationed Thursday to deter demonstrators.
Sotoudeh, who said 14 women had been arrested outside the Labor Ministry, questioned the Iranian authorities’ focus on moral policing.
“I wonder why, in a crime-ridden megacity such as Tehran, with lots of pickpockets and burglaries and shoplifting cases on a daily basis, why our respected public prosecutor is only thinking about a half-meter piece of cloth on women’s heads,” Soutoudeh said.
Iran’s state-run media did not report any arrests Thursday. Many instead quoted Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, that “women are the managers of the home and a source of peace in the minds of men.”
Iran’s theocracy has also declared its own women’s day, to be observed March 9, commemorating what it says was the birth of Fatimah, the daughter of the prophet Muhammad.
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran, and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.