Around 1,000 people took to the streets in Iran on Wednesday to demand action after four women were maimed in acid attacks reportedly linked to them not wearing the veil.
The demonstration took place in Isfahan — 450 kilometres (280 miles) south of Tehran — where the victims were injured in the past week by assailants on motorcycles.
“Isfahan is our city, security is our right,” the crowd chanted outside Isfahan’s judiciary building, waving banners and placards demanding action, according to the official IRNA news agency.
Reports on social networks have said the victims were targeted because they were “badly veiled,” and female drivers have been urged to keep their car windows closed.
The attacks have shocked the country and prompted President Hassan Rouhani to speak out.
Four arrests have been made and the cases are under investigation by police.
Under Islamic law in force in Iran since the 1979 revolution, women must wear loose clothing, known as hijab, that covers the head and neck.
Iranian MPs have written to Rouhani in recent months to demand that police better enforce wearing of the veil, an emotive issue in the Islamic republic.
But speaking earlier Wednesday, the president urged citizens to consider the issue carefully and not be zealous.
“We should not be overly focused on one issue, such as bad hijab, to prevent vice,” he said, alluding to the Islamic duty to promote virtue.
The Isfahan protest, which prompted a frenzy of activity on Facebook and Twitter, came as Iran’s health minister Hassan Hashemi visited one victim at a city hospital.
The woman gave a harrowing account of how she has lost sight in her right eye.
“I was a student, I am educated, I was behind the wheel of my car and then the attacker took my life away from me,” the victim, named as Soheila Jorkesh, was quoted as saying by IRNA.
“I am the only daughter of this family. My left eye has still sight. Please help me to save my sight so I could see,” she said, pleading with the minister, an ophthalmic surgeon, for an operation.
“Nobody knew how to help me at the time. It took 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive,” she said. “I will not give up because I deserve to see.”
One video of the Isfahan protest uploaded on Facebook heard demonstrators chanting: “Down with the religious extremists.”
A much smaller demonstration, numbering about 50 people, outside Iran’s parliament hours earlier demanded an end to violence against women.
Acid attacks have risen in recent years in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, with the abusers claiming they punished women for “sullying” their family “honour” by committing “indecent” behaviour.
But the incidents in Isfahan are the first to be prominently reported in Iran in several years.