Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi withdrew from a long-scheduled interview with CNN’s chief international host Christiane Amanpour at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday after she rejected a last-minute demand to wear a headscarf.
About 40 minutes after the interview was due to begin and Raisi was late, an aide told Amanpour that the president had suggested wearing a headscarf. Amanpour said she “politely declined”.
Amanpour, who grew up in the Iranian capital Tehran and is fluent in Farsi, said she wears a headscarf while reporting in Iran to comply with local laws and customs, “otherwise you wouldn’t be able to operate as a journalist.” But she said she would not cover her head to interview an Iranian official outside a country where it is not required.
“Here in New York, or anywhere outside of Iran, I’ve never been asked by an Iranian president — and I’ve interviewed all of them since 1995 — inside or outside Iran, never asked to wear a headscarf,” she said in a statement on Thursday. CNN’s “New Day” program.
“I’ve very politely declined on behalf of myself and CNN, and female journalists everywhere, because it’s not a requirement.”
Iranian law requires all women to wear head coverings and loose-fitting clothing in public. The rule has been enforced in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and is mandatory for every woman in the country — including tourists, visiting political figures and journalists.
Amanpour said Raisi’s aide made it clear that the interview – which would have been the Iranian president’s first on US soil – would not take place if she did not wear a headscarf. He called it “a matter of respect” as they are the holy months of Muharram and Safar, and referred to “the situation in Iran,” referring to the protests that swept the country, she added.
Last week, anti-government protests erupted across Iran over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody, after he was arrested by Iran’s vice squad on charges of violating the headscarf law.
Mahsa Amini’s family demands truth about her death in police custody
Thousands of people have taken to the streets, with some women cutting their hair and burning their hijabs in protest against the law. According to witnesses and videos shared on social media, human rights groups have reported that at least eight people have died in the demonstrations, which have been cracked down by authorities.
The demonstrations appear to be the largest-scale displays of opposition to the Islamic Republic’s rule, one that has tightened since the election of Raisi’s hard-line government last year. After eight years of moderate rule by Hassan Rouhani, Iran elected Raisi, an ultra-conservative head of the judiciary whose views are in line with the thinking of the country’s powerful clergy and supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In Iran, the headscarf is a powerful symbol of a set of personal rules imposed by the country’s ecclesiastical leaders that govern what people can wear, look and do. In the past decade, protests have flared up as many Iranians have become angry at those restrictions.
Amini’s death has sparked an outburst of prolonged anger over restrictions on personal freedoms. Surveys and reports in recent years have shown that an increasing number of Iranians do not believe that the hijab, or headscarf, should be mandatory.
Iranian officials have claimed that Amini died after suffering a “heart attack” and slipping into a coma, but her family said she had no pre-existing heart condition, according to Emtedad News, an Iranian pro-reform media outlet. Skepticism about the officials’ report of her death has also fueled public outcry.
CCTV footage released by Iranian state media showed Mahsa Amini collapsing in a “re-education center” where she was taken by vice squad to receive “guidance” on her clothing.
Amanpour had planned to investigate Raisi over the Amini’s death and the protests, as well as Iran’s nuclear deal and support for Russia in Ukraine, but said she had to walk away.
“As the protests in Iran continue and people are being killed, it would have been an important moment to talk to President Raisi,” she said in a statement. Twitter thread.