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Iran debates legislation to discourage women from wearing Western clothing
The Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian legislator Friday denied Western media and Internet reports that the country is debating a measure that would require Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims to wear a patch of colored cloth on their garments.
"It's a sheer lie. The rumors about this are worthless," said Emad Afroogh, who chairs the parliament's cultural committee.
Afroogh said the bill, which he sponsored, seeks to make women dress more conservatively by discouraging Western clothing, increasing taxes on imported clothes and paying for an advertising campaign to encourage citizens to wear Islamic-style garments.
A draft received preliminary approval Sunday, and legislators debated the legislation this week. If adopted, the measure would require approval by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog.
The measure has provoked concern outside Iran after a Canadian newspaper reported that provisions would require Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians — members of an ancient Persian faith — and other non-Muslims to wear a patch on the front of their garments.
The National Post, quoting "Iranian expatriates living in Canada," said the law would require "Iran's roughly 25,000 Jews ... to sew a yellow strip of cloth on the front of their clothes, while Christians would wear red badges and Zoroastrians would be forced to wear blue cloth."
The State Department voiced concern Friday. Spokesman Sean McCormack said such a measure would be "despicable" and carry "clear echoes of Germany under Hitler."
McCormack said he could not comment further because the precise nature of the proposal was unclear.
"The bill is not related to minorities. It is only about clothing," Afroogh said. "Please tell them [in the West] to check the details of the bill. There is no mention of religious minorities and their clothing in the bill."
Iranian Jewish legislator Morris Motamed confirmed Afroogh's account. "Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in parliament," he said. "Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here."
According to the bill, a joint panel of parliament and Cabinet ministers would decide on the tax increase on imported clothes and other details.
"Promotion of Western and spontaneous styles has become a cultural problem in major cities. It needs national attention," Mahmoud Hosseini, spokesman of the cultural committee in the Majlis, or parliament, has said in comments broadcast live on state radio.
Under existing law, women must cover from head to toe, but many young women, buoyed by social freedoms granted during the 1997-2005 rule of former President Mohammad Khatami, ignore the law.
Since conservatives regained control of Iran's most powerful institutions, there have been increasing calls to implement strict Islamic laws that largely were ignored in the past.
Iran's Islamic law imposes tight restrictions on women. They need a male guardian's permission to work or travel. They are not allowed to become judges, and a man's court testimony is considered twice as important as a woman's.
Despite such restrictions, Iranian women have more rights than their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and some other conservative Muslim countries. They can drive, vote and run for office.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company