Iran acid attacks put 'vice groups' on defensive

The acid attacks in Iran have prompted criticism of a proposed law that would provide legal protection to vigilante groups working to discourage "vice."

al-monitor Iranian worshippers shout anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration by hardline group Ansar Hezbollah to protest against the social corruption and unislamic outfits worn by women after Friday prayers ceremonies in Tehran, April 28, 2006. Photo by REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl.
Arash Karami

Arash Karami

@thekarami

Topics covered

iranian politics, hijab, hassan rouhani

Oct 24, 2014

In response to a number of acid attacks on women in the city of Esfahan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ordered the Interior Ministry, Intelligence Ministry and Justice Ministry to pursue the case. Tehran's Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Mohadi Kermani has also said that the attackers must be given the “maximum punishment.”

Protests erupted in Esfahan and the capital Tehran over the attacks, which left a number of young women disfigured. Some at these protests blamed the authorities for not protecting women from violence and supporting legislation that offers legal protection to vigilante "vice groups" engaged in the Islamic teaching of “enjoining good and forbidding wrong.”

These vice groups, often organized around Ansar-e Hezbollah, have threatened that if the administration does not take action to enforce hijab laws, they will take to the streets and enforce it themselves, despite hijab-law enforcement falling under the jurisdiction of the police and not the administration. Iranian authorities have claimed that Ansar-e Hezbollah or other vice groups were not involved in the attacks, and a number of officials have suggested the violence was the work of “anti-social” individuals.

During an Oct. 22 trip to Zanjani, Rouhani condemned those who believe that “enjoining good and forbidding wrong” is their duty alone, and use the teaching as a partisan tool. He said it should be used to “bring society closer together [rather than] to create separation and divisions,” and asked parliament to consider wording the law in a manner that would “create more unity in society.”

Parliament member Laleh Eftekhari criticized Rouhani for his comments. “I did not expect this from a president who studied in the seminary,” she said, adding that “enjoining good and forbidding wrong” is not just about hijab and modesty laws, but relates to all aspects of governance.

Hard-line cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami called for the attackers to be punished both for injuring the victims and causing “damage to the dignity of the Islamic system.” He called, however, for media outlets that blamed vice groups for the attacks to be punished as well. He said, “These websites and newspapers that have accused the Islamic system and the religious forces must be pursued. The owners and managers must be punished and held accountable for their lies.”

Khatami dismissed criticism of the bill, saying that it “makes clear the framework” in which these groups will operate.

The Ansar-e Hezbollah website Yalarasat alHussein claimed that the protests in response to the acid attacks “proved that the protesters do not have concerns for society, but rather seek to challenge Islamic laws and constitutional laws.” The article stated that some of the chants and posters in front of the parliament building in Tehran questioned Iran’s hijab laws and the proposed law to protect vice groups. It condemned any connection between the violence and these laws, and quoted officials as equating connecting the two with “inciting public opinion.”

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