A senior Iranian official has questioned excessive state enforcement of the country’s compulsory hijab laws – following the death of Mahsa Amini in custody.
Ali Larijani, 65, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and a former parliamentary speaker, warned in an interview with Iranian daily Ettela’at that a “rigid response” to the widespread protests that have followed her death “is not the cure”.
Mr Larijani is the first senior political figure to publicly call for a rethink on the government’s crackdown on women and girls who do not adhere to the Islamic dress code.
In an apparent break from the uncompromising line shown by the regime, he said in the interview: “The hijab has a cultural solution, it does not need decrees and referendums.
“I appreciate the services of the police force and Basij [parliamentary militia], but this burden of encouraging the hijab should not be assigned to them.
“Do not doubt that when a cultural phenomenon becomes widespread, a rigid response to it is not the cure.
“The people and young people who come to the street are our own children. In a family, if a child commits a crime, then they try to guide him to the right path, the society needs more tolerance.”
He noted that during the period of the last Shah’s rule before the 1979 Iranian revolution, wearing of the hijab was not encouraged by the state but many women wore it voluntarily.
Mr Larijani continued: “Islamic government means that people manage their own affairs. It is the same in terms of social justice. If the affairs are managed by the people, their talents will flourish.”
He added: “The problem is that if in a society, young people do not implement one of the sharia rulings correctly from an intellectual and social point of view, this is not 100% wrong.”
Ms Amini, an Iranian Kurd, was arrested in Tehran on 13 September for wearing “inappropriate attire” and died three days later.
Iran’s government insists she was not mistreated, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating.
Her death has led young women to cut their hair and defiantly tear off and wave their headscarves, spearheading protests which have quickly spread nationwide – and to other cities across the globe, including London.
The protests, which have called for the overthrow of the Iranian regime, have been met by a harsh government crackdown, including beatings, arrests and the killing of demonstrators.
Human rights groups say at least 201 people have been killed in Iran, along with hundreds injured and thousands arrested by security forces.
At least 20 members of the security forces have reportedly been killed.