The official says Iran has shut down morality police after two months of protests

Iran scrapped its morality police after more than Two months protest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women, local media said on Sunday, citing a lone Iranian official. Since the death of the 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin on September 16, three days after her arrest by vice squads in Tehran, women-led protests, dubbed “riots” by the authorities, have gripped Iran.

Demonstrators have burned their mandatory hijab head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans, and growing numbers of women are refusing to wear the hijab, particularly in parts of Tehran.

“The morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary and have been abolished,” Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency. His comment came at a religious conference where he responded to a question “why the morality police were shut down,” the report says.

If confirmed, the move would be a rare concession to the protest movement, and authorities have also acknowledged the demoralizing effects of an economic crisis sparked by US sanctions.

But as CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reported on Monday, there was no endorsement from the broader Iranian regime for the plan to shut down the morality police, and his comments were met with much skepticism. It’s also important to note, Williams said, that protesters have been demanding much more fundamental changes in the way their nation is run, and it seemed unlikely they would choose to leave the streets and quietly head home, even if the notorious police force did would be dissolved.

FILE PHOTO: Protest against the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran
A police motorcycle burns during a protest in Tehran on September 19, 2022.

WANA NEWS AGENCY via REUTERS


“The best way to confront the unrest is to … pay attention to the real demands of the people,” said Seyyed Nezamoldin Mousavi, speaker of the parliament’s presidency, referring to “livelihoods and the economy” in the Islamic Republic.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled Iran’s US-backed monarchy, authorities have enforced strict dress codes for both women and men.

But under hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Morality Police – officially known as Gasht-e Ershad, or “Guidance Patrol” – was formed to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab.”

The units were set up by the Supreme Council of Iran’s Cultural Revolution, which is now headed by President Ebrahim Raisi.

They began their patrols in 2006 to enforce the dress code, which also requires women to wear long clothing and bans shorts, ripped jeans and other clothing considered indecent.

The announcement of the abolition of the units came a day after Montazeri said “both parliament and the judiciary are working” on whether to change the law requiring women to cover their heads.

Raisi said in TV commentary on Saturday that Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations are enshrined in the constitution, “but there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible.”

The hijab became compulsory in 1983. Morality police officers initially issued warnings before cracking down and arresting women 15 years ago.

The squads usually consisted of men in green uniforms and women in black chadors, garments that cover the head and torso.

The role of units evolved but was always controversial.

Dress norms gradually changed, particularly under former moderate President Hassan Rouhani, when it became common to see women in tight jeans and loose, colorful headscarves.

But his successor, the ultra-conservative Raisi, called in July of this year for “all state institutions to be mobilized to enforce the headscarf law.”

Raisi then accused that “the enemies of Iran and Islam have targeted the cultural and religious values ​​of society by spreading corruption.”

Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also deployed a morality police force to enforce women’s dress codes and other codes of conduct. Since 2016, the force there has been sidelined by a push by the Sunni Muslim kingdom to shake off its austere image.

In September, the Union of Islamic Iran People Party, the country’s main reformist party, called for the hijab law to be repealed.

The party, founded by relatives of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, is urging the authorities to “prepare the legal elements that will pave the way for the lifting of the mandatory hijab law”.

On Saturday, she also called on the Islamic Republic to publicly close down the vice police and “allow peaceful demonstrations.”

Iran accuses its enemy, the US and its allies, including Britain and Israel, and Kurdish groups based outside the country of fomenting the street protests.

More than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of members of the security forces, an Iranian general said on Monday.

The Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights said last week at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in ongoing nationwide protests.”

Thousands were arrested, including prominent Iranian actors and footballers.

Among them was actor Hengameh Ghaziani, who was arrested last month. She had published a video on Instagram in which she took off her hat. She was later released on bail, Iranian news agencies reported.

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