Screengrab from footage of Iranian police pushing a woman into a van, April 2024

Originally published in The Guardian:

Harrowing first-hand accounts of women being dragged from the streets of Iran and detained by security services have emerged as human rights groups say country’s hijab rules have been brutally enforced since the country’s drone strikes on Israel on 13 April.

A new campaign, called Noor (“light” in Persian), was announced the same day the Iranian regime launched drone attacks against Israel, to crack down on “violations” of the country’s draconian hijab rules, which dictate that all women must cover their heads in public.

Hours later, videos verified by human rights groups showing women and girls being forcefully arrested by agents of the notorious Gasht-e-Irshad (“morality police”) flooded social media along with stories of beatings and assault.

One mother and daughter walking through a busy Tehran square were surrounded by five chador-clad female agents and two male agents, who hurled insults and accusations before they grabbed the women. When they resisted arrest, they were violently dragged into the van, a source close to the family said.

Dina Ghalibaf, a student at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University and was among the first to tweet about a confrontation. On her now suspended Twitter account, she said: “Yesterday in the police room of Sadeghiyeh metro station, I insisted that I had the right to use the metro as a citizen and a taxpayer. But then, they violently dragged me into a room and Tasered me. They handcuffed me and one of the officers sexually assaulted me.”

See also Iran Updates: Sexually Assaulted in Detention, Journalist Ghalibaf is Re-Arrested

A day after her post, she was reportedly arrested and transferred to the notorious Evin prison. The state judiciary’s Mizan news agency announced that Ghalibaf will face legal action and refuted her allegations of sexual assault.

However, jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi sent a voice message – published by relatives on Instagram – about Ghalibaf’s visible bruises. In the post, she urged Iranian women to share their stories of arrest and sexual assault at the hands of the security forces.

The Guardian spoke to the families of two women who were arrested last week and three women who were arrested by the Gasht-e-Irshad. One young woman from Tehran said:

Around eight agents surrounded me on Saturday and started screaming at me. They hurl insults like “whore”, “naked America-loving slut” – all while kicking me in the legs, stomach and everywhere. They don’t care where they hit you.

Another woman said:

Both women and men touch our bodies during arrests. They say they’re religious and loyal Muslims, but don’t care if the male agents touch our bodies, which is supposedly forbidden for them to do. There were around six evil women agents and three of them attacked me. Two of them held my hands [behind] my back and one of them tried to throw me into the white van. Two male agents then violently grabbed my arms and pushed me into the van. While in the van, they were verbally abusing us and took five or six of us – arrested for hijab – to the detention centre in Gisha.

The woman added that at the detention center she saw about 40 detained women. After spending more than five hours in detention, where they were subjected to insults and beatings, some of the women were released.

A family member told the Guardian: “My mother was kicked in her legs, and now has bruises and long lasting injuries to her legs. During her arrest, the agents called her ‘ugly’, ‘old dog’ and a ‘crone’, and continued hitting her.”

The Guardian has seen pictures of at least two women who showed signs of violent attacks, which they say occurred during their detention last week.

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