Iranian shopkeepers and truck drivers staged strikes in nearly 40 cities and towns on Monday after protesters called a three-day nationwide general strike when the government refused to confirm a senior official’s claim that the vice squad had been abolished.
Iranian newspapers instead reported an increase in patrols, particularly in religious cities, requiring women to wear the hijab and business managers being ordered by police to tighten hijab restrictions.
The confusion may partly stem from a divided regime sending out mixed messages trying to quell the protests.
Iran has been rocked by 11 weeks of unrest since a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody after being arrested by morality police.
The show of force in the shop strike satisfied the protesters as it expressed dissatisfaction with the government in major cities such as Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz and Shiraz. Iranian Kurdish rights group Hengaw also reported that 19 cities have joined the strike movement in western Iran, where most of the country’s Kurdish population resides.
Political prisoners called for support for the three-day protests. Posters also appeared on the streets calling for respect for the strike.
Government officials continued to claim the protests had ended but also admitted that many shops had closed and blamed intimidation, which they said would lead to criminal charges.
At the same time, senior politicians including President Ebrahim Raisi and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Qalibaf said they will visit Tehran’s universities on Wednesday to debate reforms with the striking students, a tactic that has previously backfired.
In a sign the government isn’t relaxing hijab rules, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported Monday that an amusement park in a Tehran mall was shut down by the judiciary because its operators weren’t wearing hijab properly.
The reform-leaning newspaper Ham-Mihan said the Morality Police have increased their presence in cities outside Tehran, where police have been less active in recent weeks.
The controversy over whether the force had been shut down arose when the Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was asked about the morale police at a conference where he said: “The morale police have been shut down where they were established”.
He added they had “nothing to do with the judiciary” and “the judiciary would continue to monitor behavioral acts at the community level.”
Iran’s official authorities have not yet officially responded to the controversy. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was asked about the dissolution of the vice squad during a visit to Serbia on Sunday and said: “Everything is going well in Iran within the framework of democracy and freedom.”
A Tehran journalist told the Guardian: “The security forces and police are all focused on quelling the protests, so they don’t have the resources to deal with women without a veil. The leadership patrol in the form that we used to see on the streets has completely disappeared and does not exist. On one of the days of the demonstration in Tehran, I walked through the IRGC guards without a headscarf. They just looked at me. Their looks were angry but they had no other interaction.”
She added that the Basij paramilitary forces are still active at night, and probably even more so outside of Tehran.
In Rasht, a women’s rights activist says that she has not seen the so-called traffic stripes and cars in the last two and a half months.