Some Iranian Women Take Off Hijabs As Hard-Liners Push Back

The simple act of walking has become a display of defiance for a young Iranian woman who often moves in Tehran’s streets without a compulsory headscarf, or hijab.

With every step, she risks harassment or even arrest by Iran’s morality police whose job is to enforce the strict dress code imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
 
“I have to confess it is really, really scary,” the 30-year-old fire-safety consultant said in a WhatsApp audio message, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.
 
But she is also hopeful, saying she believes the authorities find it increasingly difficult to suppress protests as more women join in. “They are running after us, but cannot catch us,” she said. “This is why we believe change is going to be made.”

The hijab debate has further polarized Iranians at a time when the country is buckling under unprecedented U.S. sanctions imposed since the Trump administration pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers last year. It’s unclear to what extent the government can enforce hijab compliance amid an economic malaise, including a currency collapse and rising housing prices.
 
There’s anecdotal evidence that more women are pushing back against the dress code, trying to redefine red lines as they test the response of the ruling Shiite Muslim clergy and their security agencies.

An Associated Press reporter spotted about two dozen women in the streets without a hijab over the course of nine days, mainly in well-to-do areas of Tehran _ a mall, a lakeside park, a hotel lobby.

Many other women, while stopping short of outright defiance, opted for loosely draped colorful scarves that show as much hair as they cover. Even in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, frequented by many traditional women, most female shoppers wore these casual hijabs. Still, a sizeable minority of women was covered head-to-toe in black robes and tightly pulled headscarves, the so-called chador.

The struggle against compulsory headscarves first made headlines in December 2017 when a woman climbed atop a utility box in Tehran’s Revolution Street, waving her hijab on a stick. More than three dozen protesters have been detained since, including nine who are currently in detention, said Masih Alinejad, an Iranian activist who now lives in New York.
 
Despite attempts to silence protesters, public debate has intensified, amplified by social media.

Last month, a widely watched online video showed a security agent grab an unveiled teenage girl and violently push her into the back of a police car, prompting widespread criticism.
 
President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have supported a softer attitude toward women who don’t comply with the official dress code. However, hard-liners opposed to such easing have become more influential as the nuclear deal is faltering.

They have called for harsh punishment, even lashes, arguing that allowing women to show their hair leads to moral decay and the disintegration of families. The judiciary recently urged Iranians to inform on women without hijabs by sending photos and videos to designated social media accounts.

“The more women dress in an openly sexual way, the less we’ll have social peace, while facing a higher crime rate,” Minoo Aslani, head of the women’s branch of the paramilitary Basij group, told a rally last week.

Another gathering was attended by several thousand women in chadors. One held up a sign reading, “The voluntary hijab is a plot by the enemy.”

Reformist lawmaker Parvaneh Salahshouri said coercion does not work. “What we see is that the morality police have been a failure,” said Salahshouri, who wears a headscarf out of religious belief.

Changing hijab rules through legislation is unlikely because of the constraints on parliament, she said.
 
Instead, women should engage in non-violent civil disobedience, Salahshouri said. She cautioned that it’s a slow, difficult road, but that “Iranian women have not given up their efforts.”

The hijab controversy goes back to the mid-1930s when police forced women to take off their hijabs, part of a Westernization policy by then-Shah Reza Pahlavi. Under his son and successor, women could choose. Western apparel was common among the elite.

A 2018 survey by a parliament research center indicates that most women wear a casual hijab and only 13% opt for a chador.

Attitudes have changed. In 1980, two-thirds believed women should wear hijabs. Today, fewer than 45% approve of government intervention in the issue, the research said.

Iran has seen waves of anti-government protests, including an outcry after a 2009 election many contended was stolen by hard-liners. Those with economic grievances frequently protest.

Alinejad, the activist, argued the campaign against forced hijabs carries symbolic weight, saying that mandatory headscarves were “the symbol that the Iranian government used to take the whole society hostage.”

In recent years, she has posted videos and photos of activists, including of women filming themselves as they walk in the streets without a headscarf. Alinejad said she receives more than 20 images a day, but posts only some.

The activists in Iran take risks.

In March, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has represented female protesters, was sentenced to 38.5 years in prison, of which she must serve 12, according to her husband.

In April, activists Yasaman Aryani, her mother Monireh Arabshahi and Mojgan Keshavarz were arrested after posting a video showing them without headscarves in the Tehran metro. In the video, they distributed flowers to female passengers and spoke of a day when women have the freedom to choose.

Amnesty International said Monday that Iranian authorities have used incommunicado detentions, prolonged solitary confinement and threats against family members to coerce detained activists to retract their opposition to forced veiling in video-taped “confessions.”  The group said it had detected such a pattern in six cases since April.

Some activists maneuver carefully.

                   The 30-year-old fire-safety consultant said she tries to avoid policemen when she walks the streets without a hijab. She said she grudgingly complies with the dress code when she delivers lectures or sings in a mixed choir _ activities she would otherwise be barred from.

At the high-end Palladium Mall in northern Tehran, several shoppers casually ignored a sign reminding customers that the hijab is mandatory. One woman only pulled up her scarf, which was draped around her shoulders, when she stepped into an elevator and found herself next to a security guard.
 
Nearby, 20-year-old Paniz Masoumi sat on the stone steps of a plaza. She had dyed some of her hair blue, but kept that funky patch hidden under a loose scarf.
 
She said police recently impounded her car for two weeks, fining her amid claims that a traffic camera snapped her with a below-standard hijab.

If hijabs were voluntary, she’d throw off hers, Masoumi said. But for now, “I am not looking for trouble.”

 

Drug Gangs Behind Sri Lanka Easter Bombings, President Claims

International drug syndicates orchestrated Sri Lanka’s deadly Easter Sunday bombings, the country’s leader claimed Monday, despite earlier blaming the attacks on Islamists.

The statement comes amid a nationwide narcotics crackdown, with President Maithripala Sirisena aiming to reintroduce capital punishment for drug offences.

Authorities have said local jihadist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) were responsible for the suicide bombings in churches and hotels that killed at least 258 people in April. The attacks were later claimed by the Islamic State group.

Sirisena’s office said the day after the bombings that local terrorists and international terror groups were responsible for the attacks.

But in a statement issued by his office Monday, Sirisena said the attacks “were the work of international drug dealers”.

“Drug barons carried out this attack to discredit me and discourage my anti-narcotics drive. I will not be deterred,” he said.

Sirisena is waging a battle against efforts by his governing coalition in parliament to abolish capital punishment, which has been subject to a moratorium since 1976.

Sri Lankan courts routinely hand down death sentences to drug offenders, murderers and rapists but it is automatically commuted a term of life imprisonment.

The president has marshalled public support for an end to the moratorium, saying that hangings would deter the illegal drugs trade.

“If the government brings legislation to abolish capital punishment, I will declare a day of national mourning,” Sirisena said in the statement, adding that public opinion favoured hanging condemned criminals.

He said the leading Buddhist monk Omalpe Sobitha had advised him to resume hangings and not to abandon his war on narcotics.

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court earlier this month suspended Sirisena’s moves to hang four drug convicts. The court banned any executions until it rules on a petition seeking a declaration that hanging breaches the country’s constitution.

The next hearing in the case is in October.

Sri Lanka’s last hangman retired in 2014, but officials said they had selected two new executioners from a pool of candidates.

 

 

 

Judges to Decide on Bond Hearings for R. Kelly Indictments

Federal judges will decide how to proceed with bond hearings in two separate federal indictments against R. Kelly.

The 52-year-old singer was arrested Thursday night while walking his dog on a 13-count indictment that includes sex crimes and obstruction of justice. A federal indictment was also unsealed in New York Friday that charges him with racketeering and sex-related crimes.

Kelly remained in federal custody over the weekend following his arrest. His attorney denied the allegations Friday.

A status hearing scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday in Chicago will determine if a federal judge will rule Tuesday on Kelly’s bail in both federal criminal cases.

Federal prosecutors have requested Kelly stay in custody, saying he is a flight risk and dangerous.

 

Biden Cancer Nonprofit Suspends Operations Indefinitely

A nonprofit foundation set up by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden that relies on health care world partnerships to speed a cure for cancer has suspended its operations.

The Biden Cancer Initiative was founded two years ago by Biden and his wife, Jill, as a tribute to his son Beau, who died of cancer in 2015. The nonprofit promoted nearly 60 partnerships with drug companies, health care firms, charities and other organizations that pledged more than $400 million to improve cancer treatment.

Biden and his wife left the group’s board in April as an ethics precaution before joining the presidential race. The nonprofit had trouble maintaining momentum without their involvement. And the roles played by Biden allies and corporate interests continued to raise questions about their interests if Biden wins the presidency.

 

Codebreaker Alan Turing To Be Face of New British Banknote

Codebreaker and computing pioneer Alan Turing has been chosen as the face of Britain’s new 50 pound note, the Bank of England announced Monday.

Governor Mark Carney said Turing, who did ground-breaking work on computers and artificial intelligence, was “a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”

During World War II Turing worked at the secret Bletchley Park code-breaking center, where he helped crack Nazi Germany’s secret codes by creating the “Turing bombe,” a forerunner of modern computers. He also developed the “Turing Test” to measure artificial intelligence.

After the war he was prosecuted for homosexuality, which was then illegal, and forcibly treated with female hormones. He died at age 41 in 1954 after eating an apple laced with cyanide.

Turing received a posthumous apology from the British government in 2009, and a royal pardon in 2013.

The U.K’s highest-denomination note is the last to be redesigned and switched from paper to more secure and durable polymer. The redesigned 10 pound and 20 pound notes feature author Jane Austen and artist J.M.W. Turner.

The Turing banknote will enter circulation in 2021. It includes a photo of the scientist, mathematical formulae and technical drawings, and a quote from Turing: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”

Former lawmaker John Leech, who led the campaign for a pardon, said he was “absolutely delighted” by the choice.

“I hope it will go some way to acknowledging his unprecedented contribution to society and science,” he said.

 “But more importantly I hope it will serve as a stark and rightfully painful reminder of what we lost in Turing, and what we risk when we allow that kind of hateful ideology to win.”

 

Djokovic Defeats Federer in Longest Wimbledon Final

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic outlasted Roger Federer of Switzerland in five sets (7-6 1-6 7-6 4-6 13-12) to capture his 5th Wimbledon championship, in the longest final in tournament history.

After splitting the first four sets, Federer had two match points in set number five but couldn’t close out the match.  The set eventually ended up in a tiebreaker which was dominated by Djokovic.  

This is the first year a tiebreaker was played in a 5th set of a Wimbledon final with the score tied at 12-12.  In previous years, the match would continue on until a player was able to win the final set by two games.

Sunday’s match lasted four hours and 57 minutes.

With his latest win, Djokovic has a total of 16 Grand Slam titles.

Federer was seeking his ninth Wimbledon title but just fell short.  

 

Trump Tweets about Non-White Lawmakers Prompt Fresh Outrage

In a series of Sunday morning tweets quickly deemed racist and xenophobic by critics, U.S. President Donald Trump has provoked fresh controversy with taunts at several new members of Congress.

Trump on Twitter, targeted Progressive Democratic Congresswomen, telling them to “go back” and help fix the “crime infested” countries from which they came.

So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly……

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019

Of the four apparently targeted, only one — Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a native of Somalia — is foreign born. The other three are native Americans: Ayana Pressley (who is a representative from Massachusetts) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a native New Yorker (and represents the eastern part of the Bronx and a portion of north-central Queens), and Rashid Tlaib, of Michigan, was born in Detroit.

FILE – Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Jan. 16, 2019.

The White House has not responded to a request from VOA on whether the president was aware prior to sending the tweets that three of the four are citizens by birth.

The progressives have been squabbling with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over immigration policy and other issues.

The dispute has attracted Trump’s attention in recent days, even prompting him to utter rare public support for Pelosi – at least when it comes to her attempt to rein in the newly elected foursome.

Trump’s tweets about the minority novice female members of Congress, known as ‘the squad,’ came about 20 minutes after a segment about them on the Fox News Channel. The president frequently reacts quickly on social media to what he sees on Fox.

FILE – Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks at the 2019 Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, July 6, 2019.

Omar, in particular, has been a frequent topic of critical coverage on the cable television channel, in part due to her frequent criticism of Israel and comments perceived as anti-Semitic.

Omar and Tlaib are the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress.

In a Twitter response to Trump on Sunday, Omar reminded him that the United States is the only country to which members of Congress swear an oath.

“Which is why we are fighting to protect it from the worst, most corrupt and inept president we have ever seen,” added the Minnesotan.

Mr. President,

As Members of Congress, the only country we swear an oath to is the United States.

Which is why we are fighting to protect it from the worst, most corrupt and inept president we have ever seen. https://t.co/FBygHa2QTt

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) July 14, 2019

Many on social media are condemning Trump’s tweet — which even by his provocative norms are viewed as crossing a new line.

Among the most prominent is Pelosi, who terms Trump’s remark xenophobic, “meant to divide our nation” and “reaffirm his plan to “Make America Great Again” has always been about making American white again.”
 

When @realDonaldTrump tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to “Make America Great Again” has always been about making America white again.

Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power. https://t.co/ODqqHneyES

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) July 14, 2019

Trump made the series of tweets prior to emerging from the North Portico of the White House clad in dark pants, a white short-sleeved shirt and a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap.

U.S. President Donald Trump, in golf attire, departs the White House for the drive to his Trump National Gold Club in Sterling, Virginia, in Washington, July 14, 2019.

As his motorcade traveled to one of his private golf courses in northern Virginia, Trump took to Twitter again to refute what reporters described who had accompanied Vice President Mike Pence during a visit to two detention centers for migrants in Texas.

“Great Reviews!” declared Trump of the tour by politicians and media to the facility for children. He characterized the pen holding adult men as “clean but crowded.”

Friday’s tour showed vividly, to politicians and the media, how well run and clean the children’s detention centers are. Great reviews! Failing @nytimes story was FAKE! The adult single men areas were clean but crowded – also loaded up with a big percentage of criminals……

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019

The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, who filed the collective print report from the scene, described a guarded area where nearly 400 men were crammed behind caged fences with not enough room for all of them to lie down on the concrete floor.

“A stench from body odor hung stale in the air,” wrote Dawsey, who said some of the men screamed they had been held for more than 40 days.

At the location, Pence had commented “this is tough stuff” as a group of detainees shouted, “no showers.”

Trump has repeatedly warned that if he is unseated by a Democrat in next year’s presidential campaign that the opposition party would turn the United States into a socialist country and open its borders to dangerous immigrants.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey of voters released on Sunday shows Trump trailing the top four Democratic Party contenders in a hypothetical matchup.

Trump defied the polls in 2016 to defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the presidency.

 

Heavy Rain Leaves Scores Dead in Nepal, India, Bangladesh

Flooding and landslides triggered by heavy rainfall have killed at least 50 people in Nepal in the past few days, with more deaths reported across the border in India and Bangladesh, officials said Sunday.

At least 30 other people were missing in Nepal, either swept away by swollen rivers or buried by mudslides since monsoon rains began pounding the region on Friday, Nepal’s National Emergency Operation Center said.
 
The center said nine key highways remained blocked by floods and mudslides, and attempts were underway to open them up for traffic. Among them is the East-West Highway, which connects Nepal’s southern districts.
 
Other roads were being cleared by thousands of police and soldiers. Continuing bad weather has grounded helicopter rescue flights. Workers were also repairing fallen communication towers to restore phone lines.
 
Thirty people have been treated for injuries and more than 1,100 others rescued from flooded areas. More than 10,000 are estimated to have been displaced.
 
Nepal’s Department of Hydrology and Meteorology warned of more troubles ahead for the southern region near the main rivers, urging people to keep watch on rising water levels and move to higher ground when needed.
 
Rain-triggered floods, mudslides and lightning have left a trail of destruction in other parts of South Asia.
 
In Bangladesh, at least a dozen people, mostly farmers in rural areas, have been killed by lightning since Saturday as monsoon rains continue to batter parts of the low-lying country, according to officials and news reports.
 
Water Development Board official Rabiul Islam said about 40,000 people have been affected, mostly due to their homes being submerged underwater.
 
Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation of 160 million people with more than 130 rivers, is prone to monsoon floods because of overflowing rivers and the heavy onrush of water from upstream India.
 
Officials in northeastern India said at least 14 people were killed and over a million affected by flooding, state official Kumar Sanjay Krishna said. Six deaths were reported in neighboring Arunachal state.
 
Assam’s Kaziranga National Park, home to the endangered one-horn rhinoceros, has been flooded.
 
Floods and mudslides have also hit some other northeast Indian states, including Meghalaya, Sikkim and Mizoram. In Mizoram, floods have submerged about 400 homes in the small town of Tlabung, police said.
 

 

Syria Says Militant Attack Shuts Down Gas Pipeline

Militants targeted a gas pipeline in government-controlled central Syria, putting it out of order Sunday, according to state media.

The SANA news agency didn’t name the attackers. The area in the central Homs province is close to where remnants of the Islamic State group are still holed up after losing all the territory they once held in the country.

SANA said technical teams are working to fix the pipeline, which links the Shaer fields to the Ebla processing plant. It did not elaborate on the extent of the damage or the nature of the attack.

The agency said the pipeline carries about 2.5 million cubic meters of gas to the processing plant and onward to power stations.

Islamic State militants briefly seized the Shaer fields in 2014 and 2016 before pro-government forces recaptured them in heavy fighting. Today much of Syria’s oil fields and infrastructure are held by U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led forces in the east.

In recent weeks, IS militants have increased their attacks against government troops, putting up checkpoints and ambushing convoys. While the government now controls over 60 percent of Syria, there is still a rebel stronghold in the northwest, where the government is waging a limited but stalled offensive. Smaller armed groups in northern, central and eastern Syria have vowed to target government and Kurdish-controlled facilities.

 

US Set to Raid Immigrant Homes in Nine Cities

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are set to launch nationwide raids Sunday aimed at arresting immigrants in the country who are facing deportation, so they can be sent back to their homelands.

The campaign, confirmed Friday by President Donald Trump, is expected to focus on hundreds of families in nine major cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

“People are coming into this country illegally, we are taking them out legally,” Trump said.

ICE agents will target mostly immigrants who are considered dangerous. Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence said the immigrants being sought are on an “accelerated docket” of immigration court cases.

Trump’s immigration raids are expected to be well received by voters who voted for him on his repeated promises to crack down on migrants illegally in the U.S. Opposition Democrats have denounced the operation, declaring it is inhumane to target families, many of them from Central America, looking for a better life in the United States.

Trump claimed that a “big percentage of criminals” are already being held at detention centers in Texas, near the southern U.S. border with Mexico, where Vice President Mike Pence visited on Friday.

“Sorry, can’t let them into our Country,” Trump said on Twitter. “If too crowded, tell them not to come to USA, and tell the Dems to fix the Loopholes – Problem Solved!”

…..Sorry, can’t let them into our Country. If too crowded, tell them not to come to USA, and tell the Dems to fix the Loopholes – Problem Solved!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019

 

He said the Friday tour “showed vividly, to politicians and the media, how well run and clean the children’s detention centers are. Great reviews!”

Friday’s tour showed vividly, to politicians and the media, how well run and clean the children’s detention centers are. Great reviews! Failing @nytimes story was FAKE! The adult single men areas were clean but crowded – also loaded up with a big percentage of criminals……

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019

Ken Cuccinelli, the Trump-appointed acting director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services office, rejected the suggestion that the raids are a political stunt. He told CNN, “While lots of people in this government were saying it is a manufactured crisis… those people are now coming to the border and realizing we do have a real crisis.”

Sunday’s raids are also set to occur in Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Houston, Miami and San Francisco.

In the days leading up to the raids, the mostly Democratic mayors who run the cities have reiterated their policies of not cooperating with ICE officials on deportations and also have publicized telephone helplines immigrants can call to understand their rights.

Additionally, Democratic lawmakers and others have been informing immigrants of their rights and advising them not to open their doors for ICE unless the agents show a court-ordered warrant, and not to speak or sign anything without first talking with a lawyer.

Trump has said on Twitter his agents intend to arrest millions of immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally, while administration officials have said about 2,000 people would be targeted.

Albence said ICE agents will go after entire families who have been ordered to leave the country, but that some families may be separated if some members, but not others, are in the country without the proper documentation.

Trump made the unusual move of announcing the raids ahead of time and said Friday he was not concerned the early notice could help some of the targeted immigrants evade arrest.

Trump’s confirmation of the raids came amid widespread criticism of the overcrowded, unsanitary conditions detained immigrants are allegedly residing in at facilities along the southwestern U.S. border. There also is considerable criticism that border officials are separating children from their parents.