Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi withdrew from a long-planned interview with CNN’s chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, after she declined a last-minute demand to wear a head scarf. Some 40 minutes after the interview was scheduled due to start and with Raisi running late, an aide told Amanpour the president had suggested that she wear a head scarf. Amanpour said that she “politely declined.” Amanpour, who grew up in the Iranian capital Tehran and is a fluent Farsi speaker, said that she wears a head scarf while reporting in Iran to comply with the local laws and customs, “otherwise you couldn’t operate as a journalist.” But she said that she would not cover her head to conduct an interview with an Iranian official outside a country where it is not required.
Iranian law requires all women to wear a head covering and loose-fitting clothing in public. The rule has been enforced in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and it is obligatory for every woman in the country — including tourists, visiting political figures and journalists. Amanpour said that Raisi’s aide made clear that the interview — which would have been the Iranian president’s first on American soil — would not happen if she did not wear a head scarf. According to her, the aide referred to it as “a matter of respect,” given that it is the holy months of Muharram and Safar, and referred to “the situation in Iran,” alluding to the protests sweeping the country. Anti-government protests erupted across Iran last week over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody, after having been arrested by Iran’s morality police on an accusation of violating the law on head scarves. Thousands of people have taken to streets, with some women cutting their hair and burning their hijabs in protest against the law. Human rights groups have reported that at least eight people have been killed in the demonstrations, which have been met with a sharp crackdown by authorities, according to witnesses and videos shared on social media.The demonstrations appear to be the most large-scale displays of defiance against the Islamic Republic’s rule, one which has become more stringent since the election of Raisi’s hard-line government last year. After eight years of Hassan Rouhani’s moderate administration, Iran elected Raisi, an ultra-conservative judiciary chief whose views are in line with the thinking of the country’s powerful clergy and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.