Iran lawyer raises concern over missing hijab protester

Tehran (AFP) –


A renowned Iranian lawyer raised concern on Monday over the fate of a woman she said was arrested for posing without a headscarf in Tehran in an image that went viral around the world.

The woman has not been seen in public since she stood on a pillar box on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares without a headscarf or long coat required under Islamic law.

The images posted on social media showed her waving a white scarf -- an apparent reference to so-called "White Wednesday" protests against mandatory clothing rules for women.

They are thought to have been taken on December 27, a day before economic protests broke out across the country, which helped the images go viral even though they were apparently unconnected.

Thousands of social media users have shared messages, dubbing her the "Girl of Enghelab Street" after the area in central Tehran where she staged the protest, and using the hashtag "Where_is_she?"

Nasrin Sotoudeh, a famous human rights lawyer who has been arrested and barred from working on several occasions over the years, said she went to Enghelab Street on Sunday to investigate.

Sotoudeh said could not find out the woman's name, but was told she was 31 years old and had a 19-month-old baby.

"What I am certain about is that this lady has been arrested," she told AFP.

"The witnesses on the scene who saw her being taken away and even accompanied her to the police station gave me this information. I have no contact with her family."

Sotoudeh said the woman's protest appeared to show someone "at the end of their tether because of all the controls placed on her body over the 31 years of her life".

"Women feel they have no control over their bodies. It is a prelude to infringing on all of their rights," she said.

The incident came on the same day that Tehran's police chief indicated security forces were taking a softer line on Islamic rules.

"According to a decision of the commander of the police force, those who do not observe Islamic codes will no longer be taken to detention centres nor judicial files opened on them," Brigadier General Hossein Rahimi said in a speech in the Iranian capital, according to local media.

Under Iran's Islamic legal code, women are required to wear a headscarf and long clothes that cover the arms and legs.

Breaking the rules can bring fines of up to 500,000 rials ($12) and up to two months in prison.

Sotoudeh accused the police of frequently going beyond the law.

"Before even being tried by legal authorities, (women) are taken to a place called 'Gasht-e Ershad' [Guidance Patrol], where they can be harshly beaten up. Whether a case is opened for them or not is not important," she said.

"The illegal punishment they have had to bear has always been much more than what is foreseen in the law."