LONDON — When Sepideh Rashno appeared on Iranian state television last month to apologize to another woman for refusing to wear a hijab in public, longtime observers of the Iranian government saw her actions as a “forced confession.”
A viral video posted days earlier appeared to show Rashno in public without a hijab, something Iranian women have been required to do by law since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Rashno was seen arguing with a woman wearing a hijab, saying she was going to send the video of their quarrel “in the world.”
Rasno was later arrested and her apology by the other woman was broadcast on state television. The apology program later continued in another special report showing her “confessing”.
This public apology came around the same time women across the country launched a social media campaign to protest the government’s hijab law. Some shared photos and videos without headscarves in public places. They have used a hashtag #No2Hijab or #ImAgainstMandatoryHijab. Several have been arrested over the online posts, a lawyer said.
Masih Alinejad, an Iranian and Brooklyn-based anti-hijab activist, described Rashno’s televised confession, as well as those of other women, as an “act of terror” in a tweet on Friday.
“Dozens of women have been arrested since then [the] July 12 day of action against forced hijab,” Alinejad said Twitter. “But these terrorist acts did not deter women. Our campaign against forced hijab continues.”
While Rasno was arrested by security forces days after the video of her fight went viral, the woman she fought with was not arrested.
Iran’s hijab laws are enforced by the morality police, who often patrol busy city areas and arrest women on the streets for not conforming to the traditional Islamic dress code.
Last month’s campaign activity was dealt with more severely by the morality police, and those arrested for their activism could face stiffer sentences as Iranian justice appeared ready to interpret the anti-hijab campaign as a collective act orchestrated by the West, with Iranian officials saying the protests amounted to a conspiracy against the “purity” of Iran’s women.
Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s interior minister, asked women “not to be influenced by these bad suggestions” coming from the West.
“Some of these cases are supported and managed from outside and of course they have ulterior motives,” he said.
Melika Gharaguzlu, a college student studying journalism, posted on social media on Twitter on July 12 and was arrested a few days later, said Mohammad Ali Kamfirouzi, a lawyer. She said security and judicial authorities in Iran have taken her into custody.
In addition to any objection to the hijab, the Islamic Republic suppresses other types of women’s activism in the country.
A group of women known as “Mothers Seeking Justice” are increasingly vocal about the regime’s alleged atrocities. Among this group’s list are several women whose children have been killed during government crackdowns on protests across the country in recent decades.
Saeid Dehghan, a lawyer and member of the International Bar Association, said the Iranian government attributed some recent arrests directly to the #No2Hijab campaign. Some families of the arrested women publicly denied their intention to participate in the campaign.
“Mothers seeking justice are now a respectable circle whose voices can amplify any civil movement,” Mahyar Ostovar Ravari, an assistant professor in the department of information systems at Paris Business School, told ABC News. “The regime seized the #No2Hijab campaign as an opportunity to crack down on the activism of these mothers. These mothers have nothing to lose after losing their children and it would cost the regime a lot to arrest them just for seeking justice for children, so they seize an opportunity like this to silence the voices of these women.”
Explaining the Islamic Republic’s determination to suppress any kind of collective protests, especially those formed by women, Ravari said such collective protests can remove the fears of individual protesters.
“It helps with the scary feeling of being alone in this… whether it’s in groups like Mothers Seeking Justice, or a campaign like #No2Hijab,” Ravari said.
A few days after Alinejad posted about Rashno’s “forced confession,” a man with a gun was arrested near her home in Brooklyn.
A criminal complaint said the suspect sat in a car outside Alinejad’s home for hours. Alinejad posted a video online that appeared to show a man approaching her door. He said he had “a loaded gun to kill me.”
Police said the man, Khalid Mehdiyev, had a loaded Norinco AK-47, according to a criminal complaint. He was charged with possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number, the complaint said. Police have not said what they believe Mehdiyev’s intent or motive may have been.
“People, especially women, are way ahead of the government. Especially the younger generation,” Ravari said, adding, “Now, young women are pushing to choose what they want and risk the consequences.”
ABC News’ Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.