Rights group says mother of Iranian teen hurt in alleged confrontation over hijab law has been arrested

An Iranian rights group said that security forces on Thursday arrested the mother of a teenage girl who was in a coma in hospital following a confrontation with agents in the Tehran metro for not wearing the hijab.

Iran’s judiciary denied the report by the Iranian-Kurdish rights group Hengaw on the X social media platform.

Iranian authorities also deny reports by rights activists that the 16-year-old girl, Armita Geravand, was injured on Sunday in a confrontation with officers enforcing the country’s Islamic dress code, which requires women to wear a head covering.

Hengaw said that security forces arrested Geravand’s mother Shahin Ahmadi on Thursday near the hospital where her daughter was taken after the incident.

State news agency IRNA reported that the judiciary denied any arrest had taken place. It said that unidentified enemies were spreading rumours about Geravand’s “loss of consciousness” for their own gain, without elaborating.

Rights groups fear similarities to Amini case

Rights groups fear Geravand might face the same fate as Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman whose death in a coma in September 2022 while in custody of morality police sparked weeks of nationwide anti-government protests in Iran’s most serious unrest for years. The protests led to a deadly crackdown by authorities.

A new hijab law has taken effect in Iran that imposes new punishments on women who do not wear the head covering in public and President Ebrahim Raisi has taken a tough line.

A group of women are shown gathered outside a concrete building. One of them holds up a sign bearing the black and white image of a young woman in a loose headscarf.
A woman holds a portrait of Mahsa Amini during a demonstration in front of the German lower house of parliament on March 8. Amini, a young Iranian woman, died last year after being arrested in Tehran by the Islamic Republic’s morality police. (John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images)

UN-appointed rights officials last month expressed their concern over the law.

Two prominent rights activists told Reuters on Wednesday that Geravand fell into a coma following what they said was a confrontation with agents in the Tehran metro for violating the hijab law.

The Tehran Metro Operating Company told state news agency IRNA that CCTV footage showed no sign of verbal or physical conflict between passengers or company employees.

Iranian state TV’s report, however, did not include any footage from inside the train itself and offered no explanation for why it hadn’t been released. Most train cars on the Tehran Metro have multiple CCTV cameras, which are viewable by security personnel. 

“Refusing to publish the footage only increases doubts about the official narrative,” the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights said.

Some Iranians demand release of footage

The hospitalization of Geravand has already ignited anger on social media among Iranians who also demand full video footage of what happened, including from inside the metro car.

“We have YET another beautiful girl in a coma all for the crime of bad hijab … her name is Armita Geravand. She is only 16,” human rights lawyer Gissou Nia, who serves as board chair of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, wrote on X.

Inconclusive CCTV footage shared by IRNA has showed Geravand without a hijab accompanied by two female friends walking toward a train from a metro platform. Upon entering the cabin, one of the girls is seen immediately backing off and reaching for the ground, before another girl is dragged unconscious from the cabin by passengers.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the footage.

Geravand’s mother and father appeared in a video posted on IRNA on Wednesday saying that their daughter had suffered a drop in blood pressure, lost her balance and hit her head inside the metro cabin.

Rights groups claim that statement was made under duress.

Iran’s theocratic government has imposed restrictions on women’s dress since a popular revolution deposed the secular and Western-backed Shah in 1979. Women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes.

Violators have faced public rebuke, fines or arrest. Yet, in the months following last year’s unrest, women were still widely seen unveiled in malls, restaurants, shops and streets around the country.

Western condemnation

The incident has drawn condemnation from Western governments.

U.S. deputy special envoy for Iran Abram Paley wrote on X on Wednesday that Washington was following news of Geravand’s condition closely.

“Shocked and concerned about reports that Iran’s so-called morality police have assaulted 16-year-old Armita Geravand,” Paley said.

“We continue to stand with the brave people of Iran and work with the world to hold the regime accountable for its abuses.”

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in an X post Wednesday that “the Iranian regime continues to prove itself as a ruthless and autocratic state with no regards for its own citizens.”

Joly said that what happened to the teenager “should not be the status quo for women in Iran. The human rights of the Iranian people must be respected.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on X: “Once again a young woman in #Iran is fighting for her life. Just because she showed her hair in the subway.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani responded on Thursday by criticizing the United States, Britain and Germany for remarks they made in the past week about women’s rights in Iran and Geravand’s case.

“Instead of interventionist and biased remarks and expressing insincere concern over Iranian women and girls, you’d better be concerned about U.S., German and UK healthcare personnel, patients and tackle their situation,” he wrote on X.

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