Robert Tait

Offenders could be punished with fines or jail term

Teheran: Iran's Islamic authorities are preparing a crackdown on women flouting the stringent dress code in the clearest sign yet of social and political repression under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

From Thursday police in Teheran will be under orders to arrest women failing to conform to the regime's definition of Islamic morals by wearing loose-fitting hijab, or headscarves, tight jackets and shortened trousers exposing skin. Offenders could be punished with fines or two months in jail. Officers will also be authorised to confront men with outlandish hairstyles and people walking pet dogs, an activity long denounced as un-Islamic by the religious rulers.

The clampdown coincides with a bill before Iran's conservative-dominated Parliament proposing that fines for people with TV satellite dishes increase from £60 to more than £3,000. Millions of Iranians have illegal dishes, enabling them to watch western films and news channels.

The dress purge is led by a Teheran city councillor, Nader Shariatmaderi, a close ally of Mr. Ahmadinejad who helped to plot last year's election victory.

Loosely arranged headscarves exposing glamourous hairstyles and shorter, tight-fitting overcoats became a symbol of the social freedoms that flourished under the reformist presidency of Mohammed Khatami.

During his election campaign, Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed fears that his presidency might herald a forced reversal, saying Iran had more urgent problems.

Social utopia

However, Mr. Shariatmaderi denounced the trends as ``damaging to revolutionary and Islamic principles''. ``We are looking for a social utopia to live in but in the last couple of months, our attention has wavered,'' he told fellow councillors.

The clampdown recalls the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, when women wearing lipstick were often confronted by female vigilantes wiping their faces clean with handkerchiefs, which were said to often conceal razor blades. The new campaign will hold taxi agencies accountable for their passengers' attire.

Young women shopping in north Teheran's fashionable Tajrish neighbourhood on Wednesday, however, were uncowed. Matin (24), a nurse, was wearing a gaudily patterned light-blue scarf pushed back to reveal sunglasses and bleached blond hair. Her tight, short black overcoat with intricate gold patterns seemed designed to provoke the ire of the authorities. But she was unrepentant. ``I'm a married woman and it should be my husband who tells me what and what not to wear. He likes the way I dress,'' she said. Surprisingly, Narges Asgari (20), a dressmaker wearing an all-encompassing black chador, was also critical. ``I don't think people will listen because they want to take decisions themselves,'' she said. ``Clothes depend on the culture of their families. I wear the chador because, in my family, it's something we accept.''

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004