By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
The world took notice when Iranian women used a Facebook page to openly defy the clerical establishment by posting pictures of themselves in public without a hijab. Now the country's hard-liners appear to be using more traditional media to hit back at the woman who set up the page through a smear campaign that accuses her of espionage, drug use, and immorality that led to her rape.
"Iranian Women's Stealthy Freedom," the brainchild of exiled journalist Masih Alinejad, has garnered more than 400,000 "likes" and received extensive media coverage since the exiled journalist started the page on May 3.
It also got the attention of hard-line blogs and news sites, including the semi-official Fars news agency close to the powerful Revolutionary Guards Force (IRGC), who have accused Alinejad of working with foreign intelligence services and promoting immorality and promiscuity in Iran.
The latest attack came over the weekend by Iran's state controlled television, which accused Alinejad of moral corruption and said that she was trying to deceive Iranian girls and women.
The state television claimed Alinejad had been raped in London after using drugs and undressing in public. The report said the alleged rape, by three men, took place in front of Alinejad's son in the London Underground.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Alinejad dismissed the report as a lie and described those who fabricated the story as "dangerous" individuals.
"They have very easily turned a rape scene they created in their imagination into news," Alinejad said. "They didn't even have pity for my son, and they made him a witness of the [fabricated] rape."
On her Facebook page, Alinejad reacted to the report by posting a video of herself singing "in the same London subway" in which -- according to Iranian state TV's "imagination" -- she had been raped.
"If I would sing freely in my own country like I do in London, what you would do to me?" she wrote, adding that there are millions of Iranians like her who long for freedom.
"Do you ignore them or rape them in your mind?"
Alinejad says she considers the state television report an assault on all the Iranian women who have posted their photos on the "Stealthy Freedom" Facebook page.
"This is not just an attack against me, it's an attack against all the women who have used the Facebook page I created as a [platform] to say: 'We exist in Iran, we want our voices to be heard. We don't like the obligatory hijab.'"
Dozens of women openly defied the Iranian establishment by using the page to post pictures themselves unveiled in public.
One picture shows a smiling woman who has thrown her black scarf into the air as she stands on an Iranian street.
"What I want is freedom of choice not a meter of cloth! I'll remove this piece of cloth! Look! I am still a human!" she wrote.
In another picture a young woman with sunglasses is seen sitting on a bench overlooking what appears to be Tehran. "Freedom means having the right to choose. Hoping for the day all the girls and women of my nation can taste it with their whole bodies and souls," the caption reads.
The pictures go against the official state line and propaganda that tell women that their value is exhibited through their hijab and modest appearance.
Alinejad says the hijab is the "Achilles heel" of the Iranian establishment, and is used to show the world that Iran is an Islamic country.
"The regime is afraid of women who unveil themselves, so they try to destroy me in front of these women," she said.
The Islamic hijab became obligatory following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the creation of the Islamic republic. Yet despite years of harassment and state pressure that can include fines and arrests, authorities have not been able to force women to fully respect the Islamic dress code.
Over the years, the scarves women use to cover their hair have become smaller, looser, and more colorful, as the coats that are supposed to cover their bodies have become tighter and shorter.
In recent weeks, hard-liners have expressed renewed concern over "badly veiled women" and called for action to ensure that the dress code is strictly enforced.
Asieh Amini, a well-known Iranian women's-rights activist, tells RFE/RL the smear campaign against Alinejad demonstrates that the "Stealthy Freedom" Facebook page has struck a nerve.
The Norway-based Amini added that the state television report encourages violence against women.
"The establishment is trying to humiliate her femininity and promote the idea that she deserves to be raped," Amini says. "It is trying to belittle her."
"I think this demonstrates the weakness and desperation of an establishment that cannot enter into a dialogue with a critic or opponent at the same level of that individual," Amini concludes.
Iran's state-controlled television has a record of airing fabricated reports about critics, political activists, and intellectuals in order to discredit them.
Alinejad said she is planning to file a formal complaint with Iran's Judiciary against state television and also a hard-line reporter she claims called her "a whore" on social media.
"I have to take action so that the world knows that the state television, through which [Iranian] leaders and officials address the people, is the same state television that is raping our intelligence."
Copyright (c) 2014 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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