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Iranian Women Warned: Abide by Dress Code or Face Death

August 15, 1991

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ Iran’s prosecutor-general warned Thursday that women failing to cover themselves from head to foot in conservative Muslim fashion could face death under religious laws.

Speaking in a phone-in program on Tehran radio, monitored in Nicosia, Abolfazl Musavi-Tabrizi said women who defied the ″hejab,″ or dress code, would be considered apostates.

Under Islamic law, he said, the penalty for apostasy was death.

Thousands of women have endured short jail sentences, public floggings or fines for defying the dress code, which also forbids them wearing makeup.

But it was the first time an Iranian official had threatened violators with death. People are rarely declared apostate in the Islamic world.

Iranian law stipulates that when in public or the company of men other than close relations, women must wear a chador - a large dark-colored robe - or a loose smock and scarf.

The issue has been an emotional one since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Hard-liners like Musavi-Tabrizi see the hejab as a measure of the revolution’s future course and demand it be followed to the letter, to the point where even an accidental showing of hair under a scarf is punishable.

But the government of President Hashemi Rafsanjani, leader of Iran’s so- called pragmatists, is seeking gradually to liberalize society.

The government has lately grown more cautious about liberalization because it has been unable to fulfill the promises of economic improvement Rafsanjani made when he was elected in 1989.

In recent weeks, there have been outbreaks of violence, anti-government demonstrations and a spate of arson attacks in the capital and elsewhere.

In one episode last month in the central city of Isfahan, 400 people were reportedly arrested in violence that flared when security forces tried to arrest women defying the hejab, according to an Iranian exile group.

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