x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Iranian cleric beaten up by 'improperly dressed' woman

An Iranian cleric said a woman he "politely" chided for having her head partly uncovered gave him such a brutal beating he was hospitalised for three days.

Shahmirzad, Iran // An Iranian cleric said a woman he "politely" chided for having her head partly uncovered gave him such a brutal beating he was hospitalised for three days.

Hojatoleslam Ali Beheshti, who suffered a lumbar spinal contusion in the attack, said he still needs his wife's help to eat and take care of his "personal affairs" a month after the "worst day of my life".

The mid-ranking Shiite cleric was on his way to a mosque when he spotted the "badly covered" woman in the street.

"Not only didn't she cover herself up, but she also insulted … and threatened me," said Mr Beheshti.

"She pushed me and I fell to the ground on my back. From that point on, I don't know what happened," he said. "I was just feeling the kicks of the woman who was beating me up and insulting me."

Mr Beheshti is a leading religious figure in the city of Shahmirzad, in Iran's northern province of Semnan. The identity of his assailant has not been revealed.

Three other clerics have been assaulted in similar attacks recently, including a representative of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency said this week.

A mandatory hijab law enforced shortly after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution requires women to cover their hair and hide their curves.

But it remains a politically charged issue. Hardliners regard what women wear as a barometer of the regime's grip on power and those who flout the code - known as "Mannequins" - are viewed as helping a corrosive cultural invasion by the West.

Bizarrely, one cleric even claimed two years ago that, apart from leading men astray and spreading adultery, immodestly dressed women could raise the risk of earthquakes.

Enforcement of the dress code is stepped up during the sweltering summer months when women often risk flimsier clothing.

Flogging remains a punishment for breaking the dress laws but has not been imposed for many years. Offenders now are given a lecture on Islamic clothing and values, then freed after signing a pledge to mend their ways. Even so, it is a humiliating experience.

"I'm not a supporter of violence," Golnaz Esfandiari wrote on her Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty blog, "but as a woman who grew up in Iran and was harassed many times for appearing in public in a way that was deemed un-Islamic, I understand the frustration that woman in Semnan must have felt and why she lashed out at the cleric.

"For the past 30 years, Iranian women have been harassed, detained, fined and threatened by the morality police, security forces and zealots over their appearance."

Mr Beheshti has not filed a complaint against his attacker, nor was it known whether she had been arrested. But the case, classified as a "public beating", is being reviewed by the regional prosecutor.

Despite his traumatic experience, the cleric said he would do the same again if he was called to act on the religious principle of "commanding right and forbidding wrong".

Ms Esfandiari noted that when the situation is reversed, with "badly veiled" women beaten in public by police, the case is viewed simply as a necessary enforcement of the dress code.

mtheodoulou@thenational.ae