A series of acid attacks on women in Iran’s third-largest city prompted thousands to protest on Wednesday, denouncing the attackers and demanding that authorities take action. The attacks “had coincided with the passage of a law designed to protect those who correct people deemed to be acting in an ‘un-Islamic’ way”:
A local official said on Wednesday that “eight to nine” women had been attacked over the past three weeks by men on motorcycles who splashed them with acid in Isfahan, one of Iran’s largest urban centers and the country’s chief tourist destination. Some of the women were blinded or disfigured. The protesters — more than 2,000, according to the semiofficial news agency Fars — gathered in front of the local judiciary office and shouted slogans against extremists whom the protesters likened to supporters of Islamic State militants. They also called for the city’s Friday Prayer leader and the prosecutor to step down, witnesses said. Critics have long accused the Iranian authorities of playing down episodes that could embarrass leaders rather than investigating the cases.
Acid attacks on women are depressingly familiar events in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but rare in Iran. Rick Noack focuses on the new law, to which President Rouhani has come out in opposition:
“It is upon all Muslims to exhort love, respect for others and human dignity,” Rouhani reportedly said Wednesday, a comment that was widely perceived as being in support of the protesters. Although Rouhani did not mention the protests or the acid attacks, the statement was remarkable, and it could be the latest public acknowledgement of an internal fight between Rouhani’s government and other, more conservative Iranian institutions. …
The passage of the new law, pursued by religious hardliners, represented a setback for Rouhani’s government. Although the details of the law are unclear, it is expected to empower citizens and government officials to correct Iranians who fail to follow rules defined by the country’s religious leaders. Given that some of those strict Iranian norms seem to have motivated the acid attacks, the law has drawn criticism from more liberal voices. They fear that the law could legitimize violence against women for minor rule violations like wearing inappropriate clothes.
Shima Shahrabi suspects the attacks may be connected to threats by extremists to revive their role as vigilante morals police:
The attacks follow a September announcement by Ansar-e Hezbollah or the “Supporters of the Party of God, a paramilitary fundamentalist group, that it would resume vigilante-style moral policing, couched in the Islamic notion of “enjoining good and forbidding wrong.” Through much of the 1980s and 1990s, the group terrorized Iranians by attacking civic gatherings, lectures by progressive academics, and women on the street deemed insufficiently covered. The group’s re-emergence marks a new strategy in the hardline assault on President Rouhani’s efforts to moderate Iranian society.
In Isfahan, people are speaking about an organized campaign to enforce strict Islamic moral and social codes, lending credence to the link between the acid attacks and Ansar-e Hezbollah’s announced resurgence. But officials in Tehran are pushing back against these perceptions. “These acid attacks have nothing to do with people’s hejab,” Ahmad Salek, an Isfahahn MP, told IranWire. “One of the targets of the attack was wearing full hejab and chador. These rumors are made up by the mercenaries who live in the West and want to weaken the regime.”
Reza HaghighatNejad observes how Iran’s hardline conservatives are reacting to the protests:
Many hardliners claim that protests against the acid attacks were planned by enemies of the regime, an attempt to discredit Iran’s most committed religious forces. For them, the West and other regime enemies are to blame for growing discontent in Iran, which explains how a hardliner MP could state that the acid attacks in Isfahan were potentially started by intelligence agencies belonging to Israel and the West. Though it might seem that recent moves to clamp down on social freedoms strengthen the regime, a further polarization within society and widening social divides are probably closer to the truth. And with these rifts come wider reaching pockets of anger and distrust. For many, what has happened in Isfahan signals just how out of control the regime actually is: what started as a campaign for morality has now led to vicious attacks on innocent, law abiding citizens.