Iran’s Hijab-Waving Icon Reportedly Released, a 'Hero and a Symbol'

Published January 29th, 2018 - 10:57 GMT
Pictures of Iranian activist Vida Movahed, who defied compulsory hijab, with her toddler have been widely shared on Twitter (Twitter)
Pictures of Iranian activist Vida Movahed, who defied compulsory hijab, with her toddler have been widely shared on Twitter (Twitter)

by Rosie Alfatlawi

An Iranian activist whose defiant protest and subsequent detention drew worldwide interest has reportedly been freed.

The 31-year-old, named online as Vida Movahed, was filmed late last year resolutely waving her hijab on a stick in contravention of Iran’s compulsory head covering.

After reports emerged of her disappearance, a hashtag demanding to know “where is she?” gained huge traction in Iran and further afield. The question was largely rhetorical — it was widely assumed she was being held by the authorities.

Movahed, whose identity was not known at first, was labeled simply as the “girl of Enghelab Street,” in reference to the busy Tehran thoroughfare where she made her stand. Tens of thousands tweeted about her plight.

On Sunday evening, social media was filled with news of her release.

“Vida Movahed, the woman with the white shawl, has been freed, according to her friends who went to her house,” My Stealthy Freedom founder Masih Alinejad told her considerable Twitter and Facebook following.

Since 2014, Alinejad has encouraged Iranian women to post videos of themselves without hijab in public.

It was in Alinejad’s “White Wednesday” protests that Movahed was reportedly participating when she was arrested on Dec. 27. Ironically, the very same day, Tehran police announced they would no longer detain violators of the strict Islamic dress code for women. Instead, they would be required to attend “Islamic values” classes.

Despite this, according to prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, not only was Movahed immediately detained, she was later rearrested having been released.

Sotoudeh, a former political prisoner herself, said in a statement on Facebook Sunday that the director of the prosecutor’s office had informed her of Movahed’s release.

“I hope that she will not be harassed or abused by the judicial authorities because of a simple act that is considered her basic and natural right,” Sotoudeh wrote.

“She did nothing to deserve prosecution.”

Many expressed joy at the announcement, with @UncleTered tweeting: “if true, the best news I heard in the long time.”

Others tempered their celebrations by emphasizing that many others remain in custody after widespread demonstrations beginning late December.

“Great news indeed but must not forget the plight of other protesters too. Hope Vida Movahed will not be arrested again,” commented Prashan Wijesundere on Facebook.

Stefanie Rusche added: “Wonderful news. But too many people are still in prison.”

One reformist lawmaker, Mahmoud Sadeghi, suggested that as many as 3,700 were arrested following the protests which centered largely around economic grievances. The authorities have themselves acknowledged hundreds of detentions.

Movahed’s protest against obligatory wearing of the hijab, however, preceded the uprising, which was not directly about women’s rights concerns.

Last week, Amnesty International demanded her release, “renewing its calls on the Iranian authorities to end the persecution of women who speak out against compulsory veiling, and abolish this discriminatory and humiliating practice.”

“This practice has violated women’s rights in Iran for decades,” the rights organization added in a statement on Jan. 24. 

While the news that Movahed is no longer detained cannot be confirmed, many expressed hope that she would now be able to return to her 19-month-old child. A picture of her and the toddler was shared widely on social media over the last week.

Women in Iran have been required to cover their heads in public since the 1979 revolution. Many have defied that rule, facing arrest, prosecution and, in some cases, violence. 

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