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Bike-Friendly Iranian City Bans Women from Cycling in Public

Women had long assumed that they could bicycle in public if they respected Iran's strict dress code, which requires women to cover their hair and body in public

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Women in Iran had long assumed that they could bicycle in public if they respected the country's strict dress code. RFERL

Isfahan is known as the city of bicycles, a reputation forged by its many cycling lanes, a bike-sharing system, and a government that actively promotes biking — that is, unless you are a woman.

The prosecutor in Iran’s third largest city announced on May 14 that women have been banned from cycling in public, saying it was “haram,” or prohibited under Islam. Women had long assumed that they could bicycle in public if they respected Iran’s strict dress code, which requires women to cover their hair and body in public.

In 2016, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared to crush the notion with a fatwa explicitly banning women from cycling in public, but it was not strictly enforced.

Now, Isfahan’s announcement is being taken as a sign that authorities are enforcing Khamenei’s fatwa, adding to the long list of activities that Iranian women are deprived of taking part in.

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Isfahan is around 400 kilometers south of Tehran. VOA

‘Islamic Punishment’

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the clerical establishment has enforced Islamic laws denying women equal rights in divorce and inheritance, prohibiting women from traveling abroad without the permission of a male relative, and attending major men’s sports events.

Prosecutor Ali Isfahani said police in Isfahan had been ordered to warn women against biking. He said police would confiscate the bikes of those who resisted, adding that repeat offenders would be subject to “Islamic punishment,” without elaborating.

Islamic Shari’a law does not mention bicycles because they were invented centuries after the birth of Islam in the 7th century. But Isfahani said “Muslim scholars” had “proved” that women biking was “haram.”

Isfahani said city authorities were designing a special “covered bicycle for women,” although he did not indicate what such a contraption might look like.

When Khamenei issued his fatwa against women riding bikes in September 2016, he said that “women often attract the attention of male strangers and expose society to debauchery, and thus contravene women’s chastity, and it must be abandoned.”

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Iranian women take part in a Car-Free Tuesdays event. RFERL

Bike Campaign

The fatwa was declared months after environmental activists in the western city of Arak launched a campaign — Car-Free Tuesdays — to tackle high levels of air pollution in the country.

But the campaign was aborted after a group of female cyclists were detained in the western city of Marivan following criticism from the city’s Friday Prayers leader. The women were released, but only after they signed pledges not to cycle again.

In Tehran, police forcibly dispersed female cyclists who had gathered in Laleh park for a group ride as part of the Car-Free Tuesdays campaign.

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Khamenei’s fatwa prompted an angry reaction from female cyclists, who launched a social media campaign in defiance of the ban. Hundreds of women have uploaded photos of themselves on their bicycles on social media under the hashtag

Videos of women riding bikes have also been posted on the popular My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page, the brainchild of exiled journalist Masih Alinejad that has garnered more than 1 million “likes.” (RFERL)

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US Hits Iran with New Sanctions; Petrochemicals Targeted

Washington is pressuring Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile program

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US, Iran, Petrochemicals
FILE - A man walks past the Mahshahr petrochemical plant in Khuzestan province, southwest of Tehran, Iran. VOA

The United States on Friday imposed new sanctions on Iran targeting the country’s petrochemical industry, including its largest petrochemical holding group, over its financial support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Treasury Department said.

Washington is pressuring Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile program and for waging proxy wars in other Middle Eastern countries. The new measures follow a round of sanctions imposed last month that targeted the Islamic Republic’s export revenues from industrial metals.

Tensions between the two countries worsened last month when the Trump administration ordered the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East, citing intelligence about possible Iranian preparations to attack U.S. forces or interests.

The Pentagon has also accused the IRGC of being directly responsible for May 12 attacks off the United Arab Emirates coast that damaged two Saudi tankers, an Emirati vessel and a Norwegian tanker.

US, Iran, Petrochemicals
The United States on Friday imposed new sanctions on Iran targeting the country’s petrochemical industry. Pixabay

Friday’s sanctions target Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (PGPIC) for providing financial support for the economic arm of the IRGC, Iran’s elite military unit in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

The U.S. Treasury also designated the holding group’s network of 39 subsidiary petrochemical companies and foreign-based sales agents. PGPIC and its subsidiaries hold 40% of Iran’s petrochemical production capacity and are responsible for 50% of Iran’s petrochemical exports, it said.

“By targeting this network we intend to deny funding to key elements of Iran’s petrochemical sector that provide support to the IRGC,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The Treasury statement said Iran’s oil ministry last year awarded the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya, the IRGC’s economic and engineering arm, 10 projects in oil and petrochemical industries worth $22 billion, four times the official budget of the IRGC.

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President Donald Trump last year pulled out of a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for easing some sanctions, saying it did not go far enough.

The Trump administration has since taken several unprecedented steps to squeeze Iran, such as demanding the world halt all imports of Iranian oil and designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, which Iran has cast as an American provocation.

U.S. law already punished U.S. persons who deal with the IRGC with up to 20 years in prison because of the group’s designation under the Specially Designated Global Terrorist list, a different sanctions program. (VOA)