Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali KhameneiReuters

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Wednesday hinted that the government may loosen the strict dress codes that were blamed for a young woman's death and triggered nationwide demonstrations, NBC News reported.

“Women who do not have full hijab should not be considered as people outside of religion or against the Islamic Revolution,” Khamenei was quoted as having said during a speech.

Protests have gripped Iran following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Amini after she was arrested by the morality police for allegedly allegedly violating the strict dress codes in the Islamic Republic.

While Khamenei’s comments were vague and did not promise to change the existing laws, they were a recognition of how potent the issue of the hijab remains, said Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Stanford University.

“I think he knows how pervasive women’s rejection of compulsory hijab has been,” he told NBC News. “He is trying to convince the diminishing diehard supporters that the game is not up.”

Hundreds of protesters have been killed in more than two months of nationwide unrest, including dozens of minors.

In the past several weeks, judges have handed down at least 26 death sentences to protesters. Two men aged 23 have already been executed over the protests, and campaigners fear dozens more risk being hanged as Iran uses capital punishment as an intimidation tactic in a bid to quell the protests.

Last week, Iranian writer and painter Mehdi Bahman was reportedly sentenced to death after taking part in the anti-government protests and giving an interview to Israel’s Channel 12 News.

The US-based Human Rights Activist News Agency, or HRANA, estimates that more than 18,000 people have been arrested.