DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Western adversaries on Wednesday of being behind a movement among Iranian women activists to challenge the government's obligatory Islamic dress code.
On July 12, Iranian rights activists urged women to publicly remove their veils on the government's "National Day of Hijab and Chastity", risking arrest for defying the Islamic dress code as the country's hardline rulers crack down harder on "immoral behaviour".
"Recently, on the pretext of hijab, they have raised the case of women again...Suddenly, the propaganda machine and the...media of the United States and Britain and some other places, and their mercenaries and followers, go on the attack," Khamenei said in remarks carried by state media.
"The enemies' goal is to spread doubt among the people... and shake their faith, which is the main factor in maintaining the country and the Islamic system," Khamenei said in a speech to Friday prayers imams.
Following the calls for anti-hijab protests, videos posted on social media showed cases of what appeared to be heavy-handed action by "morality police" units against women who had removed their hijab.
A video that went viral showed a mother begging morality police to release her daughter due to her illness and trying to stop a police van by standing in front of it. The footage prompted Iranian authorities to announce that the police squad in question would be disciplined.
Under Iran's sharia (Islamic) law, imposed after the 1979 revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures. Violators face public rebuke, fines or arrest.
But decades after the revolution, clerical rulers still struggle to enforce the law, with many women of all ages and backgrounds wearing tight-fitting, thigh-length coats and brightly coloured scarves pushed back to expose plenty of hair.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)