09/07/2022, 19.23
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Iran to use facial recognition against women who do not cover their heads

The government has announced that it is using the technology against girls and women who break the hijab law, but its first use dates back to before 2020. Over 300 people have been arrested for protesting  against the law. Women can be denied  their civil rights and lose their job if their social media profile is inconsistent with Islamic rules. Meanwhile two LGBTQ+ activists are sentenced to death.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – The Iranian government is turning the screw on dissidents, critics, and ordinary citizens, especially women. To this end, it plans to use facial recognition technology to identify those who do not wear the hijab (Islamic veil).

The announcement comes at a time of growing focus by the international community and advocacy groups on repression in Iran. In the latest case, two activists were sentenced to death for “spreading corruption on earth”: in one case, promoting the rights of LGBTQ+ people; and the other, for practising Christianity.

One of the latest steps taken by the ultra-right-wing government of President Ebrahim Raisi, in office since August 2021, is to boost facial recognition technology – already widespread in some Asian countries, like China and Israel. In addition, Iranian courts are handing down harsher prison sentences, as well as intensifying the use of torture and capital punishment.

“The decision to use facial recognition to control women's clothing exemplifies the fear of the Islamic Republic vis-à-vis popular demonstrations and the risk of a new uprising,” writes in Lebanon’s French language L'Orient-Le Jour newspaper Fariba Parsa, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute.

On Monday by Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported that more than 300 people were arrested for protesting against the mandatory head cover, without saying where and when.

Protests did in fact break out against an order issued on 5 July to enforce the hijab and chastity law imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, legislation that applies to all women in the country regardless of their religion.

President Raisi’s decision to institute for the first time a national Hijab and Chastity Day (12 July) is another example of the regime’s hardline stand, in stark contrast to former President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who preceded him.

It also highlights the increasingly repressive nature of the Islamic Republic, especially when it comes to women and the strict enforcement of Islamic rules. In fact, women can lose their civil rights for six to 12 months if their social media profile is deemed inconsistent with Sharia (Islamic law), while women working in government offices can be fired.

In announcing the use of facial recognition, Mohammad Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani, secretary of the Organisation for the Promotion of Virtue and the Repression of Vice, admitted for the first time that  Iranian surveillance systems had incorporated this kind of technology.

However, it appears that it goes further back. In 2020, the London-based Minority Rights Group International found  that, “The Iranian government has already used facial recognition technology to identify and arrest protesters and political dissidents, and the collection of biometric data potentially gives it the tools to do so even more efficiently.”

Meanwhile, international media recently reported that two LGBTQ+ activists, 31-year-old Zahra Sedighi Hamedani and 24-year-old Elham Chubdar were sentenced to death; in Hamedani's case, not only because of their campaign in favour of citizens’ rights. The latter was also convicted for practising the Christian faith after she took in part of prayer service wearing a cross necklace. The case of a third defendant is still pending.

In response to international criticism, Iran has replied that the death penalty was imposed not because of support for rights but for human trafficking.

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