CNN’s chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour said that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi demanded at the last minute that she wear a head scarf as a “matter of respect” during an interview planned for Wednesday evening, prompting her to “politely decline” his “unprecedented and unexpected condition.”
Raisi then withdrew from the long-planned interview.
With anti-government protests raging in the streets of Iran following the death of a young woman in police custody, Amanpour hoped to press Raisi about the news in his first-ever interview on American soil. The hardline Iranian leader was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
In one of the largest displays of defiance against the Islamic Republic in years, demonstrations have erupted in the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death in custody following her arrest last weekend by Tehran’s so-called “morality police.” She was detained on allegations she violated Iranian law requiring women to wear head scarves in public. Iranian officials have claimed the 22-year-old woman died from a “heart attack.”
Amanpour, who was raised in Tehran and speaks Farsi, told CNN’s New Day on Thursday morning that she has always complied with wearing head scarves and other local customs while reporting in Iran, adding that “you couldn’t operate as a journalist” otherwise.
Noting that Raisi had already done a recent interview with CBS News’ 60 Minutes where “the head scarf was an issue,” Amanpour added that no other Iranian president—“either inside or outside of Iran”—had ever insisted she cover her head during an interview.
The veteran journalist said the interview had been planned for weeks and they had spent hours setting up the lights and cameras only for there to be “no sign” of Raisi.
“Forty minutes after the interview had been due to start, an aide came over,” she tweeted on Thursday morning. “The president, he said, was suggesting I wear a headscarf, because it’s the holy months of Muharram and Safar.”
She added: “I politely declined. We are in New York, where there is no law or tradition regarding headscarves. I pointed out that no previous Iranian president has required this when I have interviewed them outside Iran.”
Amanpour explained that the aide said that the interview wouldn’t happen unless she donned a head scarf, telling her it was a “matter of respect” while referencing the “situation in Iran”—an obvious allusion to the widespread protests.
“Again, I said that I couldn’t agree to this unprecedented and unexpected condition,” she stated. “And so we walked away. The interview didn’t happen. As protests continue in Iran and people are being killed, it would have been an important moment to speak with President Raisi.”
Asked on New Day whether she took this as Raisi finding an excuse to avoid discussing the protests at home, Amanpour said she “can’t prejudge that” because the interview had remained on the schedule before the sudden withdrawal.
“I think if I could just guess on how do I read it, I think that he did not want to be seen with a female without a head scarf in this moment,” she concluded. “Either because he calls it a religious month, or because people would say how come he’s sitting down with a foreign journalist who is not wearing a head scarf yet inside Iran they’re cracking down on young women who are not wearing their head scarves.”