Conflicting reports have come in about what Iran plans to do about its "morality police."
Iran’s Gasht-e Ershad, an Islamic morality police force, has been under scrutiny since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was detained and killed in September for refusing to wear a hijab in public. Though her death kickstarted the country’s unrest, it stemmed from longstanding inequality and injustice.
Conflicting reports about the fate of the morality police itself have been circulating throughout the protest period, including claims that the patrol has been disbanded and counterclaims that this is a ploy to calm protest and quiet the negative attention the country has been receiving.
Over the weekend, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said in a press conference that “the morality police had nothing to do with the judiciary and have been shut down from where they were set up.” He continued by saying the judiciary will continue monitoring “behavioral actions at the community level.”
After several international news outlets picked up the story, Iranian media pushed back saying the statement had been misinterpreted, saying the patrol is part of the national police, and any disbandment of the morality police falls under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry, not the judiciary.
But according to Tehran researcher Kaveh Mousavi, a contributor to OnlySky, action was taken long before the weekend. “The morality police has been secretly abolished for two months now,” said Mousavi—and more recent actions were not to abolish but to reinstate the patrols. “The Attorney General’s comments are a public pressure campaign on the police to revive it. The parliament is also looking to codify it into law.”
There have been no claims as to whether Iran will ease enforcement nor has the government made any steps to correct any misconceptions.
“I can’t make a prediction, but I would say that it’s clear that the police are unwilling to go on with enforcing modesty laws. It’s possible that they won’t be enforced, but it’s also possible that they will have to give in to pressure. It depends on who wins the pressure campaign,” said Mousavi.
Who is the Guidance Patrol, aka Morality Police?
There have been several versions of Iran’s morality police dating back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The current Guidance Patrol was formally established in the 1990s to punish any violations of the Islamic republic’s strict, religious rules and dress codes. The patrol is part of the national police, not the judiciary.
“Between 1979 and 1990, when the morality police were formally set up, there was a great deal of pressure on women, often by just people in the streets or by random members of the police forces. And they were often harassed and attacked for not correctly wearing the hijab,” Professor of international politics of the Middle East and North Africa at the University of Cambridge Roxane Farmanfarmaian told NPR.
They began regular patrols in 2006 to enforce the dress code requiring women to wear long clothes and forbidding shorts, ripped jeans, and other “immodest” clothing.
What disbanding could mean for the women of Iran
As nearly the sole victims of the morality police, women have been pushing back against its restrictions for years. They loosely wear their hijab, don form-fitting clothing, or put on bright red lipstick in protest. This has escalated more recently to burning hijabs and public hair-cutting demonstrations.
Without the Guidance Patrol, women may be freer to express themselves visually, but more importantly, might have more rights to education and jobs.
But until then, the disbandment of the Morality Police has yet to be confirmed.