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January 10, 2024

The Defiance of Roya Heshmati: Lashes Fail to Break the Resilience of Iranian Women

As a result of her consistent defiance against Iran’s compulsory hijab law, Roya Heshmati, a 33-year-old Iranian woman, has become a symbol of resistance throughout the ongoing “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement following the tragic death of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini in September 2022. Since the outbreak of anti-regime and anti-hijab protests, and amidst the increasing normalization of women eschewing the mandatory hijab in public, the Iranian government has resorted to covertly enforcing the mandatory hijab by individually punishing protesting women with lashes and imprisonment. Concurrently, the Iranian parliament has also been working towards passage of the controversial “Chastity and Hijab” bill to enforce even more restrictions and punishments against women like Heshmati who push the envelope of Iran’s mandatory hijab.

Roya shared her harrowing experience on Instagram after receiving 74 lashes for “not wearing the hijab.” A male executioner administered the punishment in a courtroom under the supervision of a judge and a female officer. Given the charges against her, Heshmati has been urged to wear a headscarf, which she has persistently refused to do, echoing the resilience of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement.

Heshmati likened her punishment to a medieval torture chamber. She revealed her quiet act of rebellion during the actual lashing, where she whispered a song symbolic of women’s struggle for freedom. 

Maziar Tataei, her lawyer, disclosed that Heshmati was initially charged with “appearing in public without a Sharia-compliant hijab.” She now faces new allegations which, according to the Islamic Republic’s judicial media, include “indecent public behavior” and connections to organized groups abroad. However, Heshmati denied these allegations, emphasizing her authenticity.

After Roya Heshmati’s story was shared by Sepideh Rashno, another anti-compulsory hijab activist imprisoned for her views, it sparked widespread reactions of support across social media. Many have lauded her bravery and condemned the lashings as a punishment for the clothing she chose to wear.

Heshmati’s case is not an isolated one. Others, such as Banafsheh Taherian and Hossein Shanbezadeh, have reported similar experiences of state-sponsored violence for defying the hijab law. Iranian women are increasingly resisting oppressive dress codes, as evidenced by these narratives.

Despite the intensification of the debate, Heshmati remains a poignant figure in Iran’s ongoing struggle for women’s rights and freedom. She embodies the unyielding spirit of those opposed to the brutality of the current regime.

NIAC commends the bravery of all Iranian women and their steadfast commitment to their right to choose their attire and lifestyle. We also condemn the horrific, medieval practice of lashing, as executed in the case of Ms. Heshmati and others.

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