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That Image Of A Woman Without Her Headscarf In Iran Isn't From The Current Protests. Here's Why.

The woman was filmed before the protests, as part of a separate movement for women's rights in Iran.

Posted on January 3, 2018, at 7:37 a.m. ET

As protests against the government in Iran have gathered steam, one image, showing a woman waving a white headscarf on a busy road, has been widely shared online.

White Wednesdays

But the image, a still from a video, was first posted online last week — and she had nothing to do with the current protests sweeping Iran. Her personal action was part of a longer-running protest movement against women being forced to wear the hijab in public.

It was sent in to My Stealthy Freedom, a campaign group that advocates for a woman's right to not wear a headscarf.

My Stealthy Freedom's founder, Masih Alinejad, told BuzzFeed News the group had received the video last week and that the woman — who Alinejad has not been able to identify — had been protesting on Enqelab Street, in Tehran, on Wednesday Dec. 27.

Every Wednesday women take off their headscarves and post footage or photos online with the hashtag #WhiteWednesday. In June 2017, Alinejad discussed the movement with the BBC, and praised the women in Iran who were bravely sending in videos of themselves.

"There is no link between the photo and the protests. She made her lonely protest just a day before the uprising," she said over the phone from New York. "We don’t know where she is but she has become an iconic picture of the Iran protests."

Following the woman's action, some reports claimed she had been arrested, and tweeted images of the plinth, now apparently laid with flowers in tribute.

Alinejad went on to condemn Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's remarks that the authorities would not harm peaceful protesters. "That’s a complete lie. We want to know where that girl is, because that girl, she didn’t get involved in any violence. It was just peaceful."

Once images of the woman started circulating, right-wing personalities started using them to further their own agenda, making comparisons between her actions and feminists in the West.

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The image was picked up by both left-wing and right-wing news sites, which ran it with articles about the Iranian protests and their reformist character.

The focus by the right on the woman's protest upset Alinejad. "I feel really bad, I feel really disappointed, and it breaks my heart," she said. As an Iranian living in the US, she is personally caught up in Donald Trump's visa ban, and she said it was terrible to see his supporters suddenly advocating for an issue that she has been campaigning about for years. Alinejad said that she had seen a shift in who was supporting her campaign in recent years — receiving criticism from both the right and the left.

"When I talk about women’s rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I always hear this is not the right time because the right wing, Donald Trump, might take advantage of that. I don’t care; what I care about is human rights, women’s rights, and my dignity."

"I want to make it clear that we are not against the hijab, because it is really sensitive," she said, noting that the campaign "welcomes women who wear hijabs," some of whom are part of the protest movement. "They [tell me they] believe in hijab but hate compulsion."

The woman in the picture, Alinejad said, was simply "a lonely warrior."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.