Iran’s president leaves CNN interview after Amanpour rejects demand for headscarves


Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi pulled out of 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 refused at the last minute to wear a headscarf.

About 40 minutes after the interview was scheduled to begin and with Raisi running late, an aide told Amanpour that the president had suggested she wear a headscarf. Amanpour said she “politely declined.”

Amanpour, who grew up in the Iranian capital Tehran and is a fluent Farsi speaker, said she wears a headscarf when reporting in Iran to comply with local laws and customs, “otherwise you couldn’t operate as a journalist. ” But she said she would not cover her head to conduct an interview with an Iranian official outside a country where it is not required.

“Here in New York, or anywhere else outside Iran, I have never been asked by any Iranian president – and I have interviewed every single one of them since 1995 – both inside and outside Iran, never asked to wear a headscarf,” she said. CNN’s “New Day” program Thursday.

“I 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 a head covering and loose clothing in public. The rule has been enforced in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and it 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 American soil — would not happen if she did not wear a headscarf. He 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”, referring to the protests sweeping the country, she added.

Anti-government protests erupted in Iran last week over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police on charges of violating the headscarf law.

Thousands of people have taken to the 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 show of defiance against the Islamic Republic’s rule, one that has grown stricter since the election of Raisi’s hardline government last year. After eight years of the moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani, Iran elected Raisi, an ultra-conservative judicial chief whose views are in line with the thinking of the country’s powerful cleric 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 spiritual leaders, which govern what people can wear, look and do. In the past decade, protests have flared up as many Iranians have resented those restrictions.

Amini’s death has sparked an outpouring of long-simmering 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 compulsory.

Iranian officials have claimed that Amini died after suffering a “heart attack” and falling into a coma, but her family has said that she had no pre-existing heart disease, according to Emtedad news, an Iranian pro-reform media outlet. Skepticism about the officials’ account of her death has also sparked public protests.

CCTV footage released by Iran’s state media showed Mahsa Amini collapsing at a “re-education” center where she was taken by morality police to receive “counseling” about her clothing.

Amanpour had planned to question Raisi about the death of Amini and the protests, as well as the nuclear deal and Iran’s support for Russia in Ukraine, but said she had to leave.

“If protests continue in Iran and people are killed, it would have been an important moment to talk to President Raisi,” she said in a Twitter thread.