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CNN's Christiane Amanpour says she pulled out of interview with Iran's president after he demanded she wear a headscarf

"I couldn’t agree to this unprecedented and unexpected condition," the veteran journalist wrote on Twitter.
Journalists Christiane Amanpour
Journalists Christiane Amanpour at the Committee to Protect Journalists' annual International Press Freedom Awards in New York on Nov. 15, 2017.Kevin Hagen / Getty Images for CPJ file

CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour said Thursday that she backed out of an interview with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi after one of his aides said it would not happen unless she wore a headscarf.

In a Twitter thread, Amanpour chronicled how her scheduled interview with Raisi on Wednesday night in New York fell apart, characterizing the aide’s request as an “unprecedented and unexpected condition.”

Amanpour, CNN’s chief international anchor, said she planned to ask Raisi about the protests that have swept across Iran after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman held by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating its strictly enforced dress code, died in custody last week.

Raisi was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

Iranian authorities have said Amini died last Friday after having fallen ill and slipping into a coma as she waited with other women held by the morality police. Authorities have acknowledged making arrests at subsequent protests, but they denied mistreating Amini and said they were investigating her death. 

Amini’s family has denied that she had health issues.

In recent days, Iranian security forces have clashed with anti-government protesters furious over Amini’s death, with some women burning their headscarves in defiance of the morality police and the country’s wider atmosphere of social repression. The deadly unrest has been documented on social media.

Amanpour said she and her CNN team planned the interview over the course of weeks and spent eight hours Wednesday setting up translation equipment, lights and cameras.

“[W]e were ready,” she wrote in part. “But no sign of President Raisi.”

People protest over the death of a woman who was detained by the morality police in downtown Tehran, Iran, on Sept. 21, 2022.
People in Tehran this week protest the death of a woman who was detained by the morality police.AP

Forty minutes after the interview was scheduled to begin, an aide to the Iranian president came over and said the president was "suggesting" that Amanpour wear a headscarf in recognition of the holy months of Muharram and Safar, she wrote. (Amanpour did not identify the aide.)

“I politely declined,” Amanpour wrote. “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."

“The aide made it clear that the interview would not happen if I did not wear a headscarf,” she wrote. “He said it was ‘a matter of respect,’ and referred to ‘the situation in Iran’ — alluding to the protests sweeping the country.”

Amanpour wrote that she told the aide that she could not agree to what she described as an “unprecedented and unexpected condition” to the interview.

“And so we walked away. The interview didn’t happen,” Amanpour wrote in the Twitter thread’s concluding post. “As protests continue in Iran and people are being killed, it would have been an important moment to speak with President Raisi.”

Amanpour’s final tweet in the thread was accompanied by a photo of her facing an empty chair.

NBC News could not immediately reach Raisi for comment because the president’s office is closed until Saturday.

In a statement, a spokesperson for CNN said: “We fully support the decision of Christiane and her team to politely decline the interview with President Raisi.”

In an address to world leaders at the U.N. on Wednesday, Raisi did not address the escalating unrest in his country, instead using his time to assail the West and what he characterized as the “double standards of some governments regarding human rights.”