Iran’s Supreme Leader has said there will be no easing of the mandatory hijab policy, claiming that protests by women over the compulsory head covering are being spurred by the “enemy”.

In an address purportedly exalting the place of women in the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khamenei referred to demonstrations that began in late December on Enqelab (Revolution) Street in Tehran and soon spread to other cities. Women have been standing on electrical junction boxes, waving their hijabs on the end of sticks.

Iranian authorities have seized scores of women, with 29 reportedly still in detention. Earlier this week, one detainee — named as Narges Hosseini — was sentenced to two years in prison.

The punishment was a sharp break from the normal practice of short prison terms and fines of about $25. Officials have also warned that anyone supporting the demonstrations will be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

See Iran Daily, March 8: 2 Years in Prison for Removing Hijab in Public

President Hassan Rouhani has suggested a more relaxed approach to compulsory hijab, but the Supreme Leader pointedly rejected this yesterday as he declared:

Despite all the funds, energy, and thoughts behind this plot, their efforts are futile. The mere result of their work might be a few girls here or there who are deceived, or for various motivations take off their headscarves. All of their efforts have minor effect, which are unimportant….

For 40 years enemies have plotted against Iran, spending billions to strike a blow to the Islamic Republic, but for 40 years this pure tree has been steadily growing, which makes us proud.

In an effective rebuke of Rouhani, Khamenei continued:

What makes me sensitive, is when an elite group talk of “compulsory hijab”.

This means that a number of the people — hopefully unknowingly–follow the same path that the enemies couldn’t achieve, despite all the spent expenses. Among them are also journalists, intellectuals and clerics.

14 Women Arrested During Rally

Meanwhile, security forces arrested 14 women during a rally marking International Women’s Day, held in front of the Labor Ministry in Tehran.

Security forces dispersed the demonstration, and reportedly also broke up gatherings elsewhere in the capital. Witnesses spoke of a large security presence with vans and guards at key points.

Meanwhile, Khamenei was pronouncing: