Acid attacks in Iran sharpen row over Islamic dress and vigilantism

Wed Nov 5, 2014 6:17am EST
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By Babak Dehghanpisheh

BEIRUT (Reuters) - It is a question all Iranians are asking: who is stalking the streets of Isfahan, throwing acid into women's faces?

The attacks - there have been at least four in the busy city in central Iran in recent weeks - appear aimed at terrorizing women who dare to test the boundaries of the Islamic dress code.

The crimes coincided with the passage of a new parliamentary bill that allows private citizens to enforce "morality" laws. The bill has sparked a clash between hardline politicians, who overwhelmingly support it, and moderates including President Hassan Rouhani. The split is an illustration of the wider political challenges Rouhani faces from his hardline opponents.

Acid attacks - an excruciating assault used in many countries to rob women of their looks - are rare in Iran and authorities, including conservative clerics, were quick to condemn them.

But in a country where volunteer militia operate as the self-appointed guardians of Islamic behavior, it is inevitable that suspicions have fallen on religious vigilante groups - so much so that one issued a statement to deflect accusations.

Ansar-e-Hezbollah, a plainclothes militia which has conducted 'morality patrols' to enforce Islamic dress, blamed “the enemy” for the acid attacks that it said were carried out to “strike a blow against security”.

Attempts to reach the group for further comment were unsuccessful.

Police have arrested a handful of suspects but not yet charged anyone. Thousands of people took to the streets of Isfahan, and hundreds in Tehran, two weeks ago to protest that not enough was being done to find the assailants.   Continued...