Reports circulated this week that Iran’s “morality police” would be dismantled following some confusing comments to that effect by a senior Iranian official.

The comments were seemingly in response to anti-regime protests that have persisted for nearly three months and were initially triggered by the arrest of Mahsa Amini for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly. The 22-year-old died while in police custody after being detained by members of the unit, known in Iran as “Guidance Patrol.”

Yet amid a flurry of international media stories proclaiming its closure, Iran experts noted there had been no official order to abolish the program.

“Did Iran say it will shut the Guidance Patrol (Hijab police)?” said Arash Azizi, a Middle East scholar affiliated with New York University, on Twitter. “No. … at best (it made) a very unclear and inconclusive remark uttered in the middle of a presser.”

So which is it? Dismantled or not? The whole thing is a bit of a puzzle. Here’s what Iran’s “morality police” is and what was reported (or misreported) about it:
Who are the ‘morality police’ and what do they actually do?

The “morality police” enforce social behaviors and regulations in the Islamic Republic in accordance with the government’s interpretation of Islamic law. For instance, wearing a hijab became mandatory in Iran after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, an Oslo, Norway-based Iranian human rights activist, said that the morality police program was established in 2006 to help formalize and cement the government’s rules for a new generation of Iranians who were born after the revolution and had access to the internet, and thus to the outside world.

“They realized they needed to be more organized, to have more of a legal and visible basis for this oppression,” he said.

Both men and women make up the morality police and they patrol Iran’s streets and parks in distinctive green and white vans. They can issue warnings and fines and make arrests, though enforcement is often uneven and arbitrary. The morality police have not been actively involved in policing the recent protests. That has fallen to a plethora of Iranian security services, including a paramilitary unit known as the “Basij.”

‘Morality police’ confusion: What are the roots of the bewilderment?

The confusion began when Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, Iran’s attorney general, was asked about the program during a press conference over the weekend.

Montazeri responded to the question by saying, they “have been shut down from where they were set up.” These comments were published by Iranian state media such as ISNA. They were then picked up by international newswire agencies including The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. The AP and AFP both ran stories indicating the program, per Montazeri’s comments, would be phased out.

But a number of problems with these stories quickly emerged. Both outlets later updated their stories to clarify that the status of the morality police was unclear.

For a start, Montazeri may be a high-ranking official in Iran’s justice department. But the morality police program is administered by the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, a conservative-cleric dominated body established by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s first supreme leader, and today headed by President Ebrahim Raisi, not the judiciary. So there was no official confirmation that the program was going anywhere. In fact, Iranian state TV and a number of officials swiftly issued denials the program would be closed.

The morality police “has not come to an end and has not closed,” noted, a hardline news agency closely affiliated with the government. “No official authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of the morality police,” Montazeri later clarified in his own comments to Etemad Online, an Iranian newspaper.

“The international news agencies translated (Montazeri’s) comments correctly,” said Amiry-Moghaddam. “They didn’t understand the significance, or how Iranian officials talk. Very often they just come with ‘fake news’. What Montazeri was actually saying was that the morality police has not been heavily involved in policing the protests. That much is true. There was no indication Iranian authorities are going to reduce their persecution or oppression of women and their rights. Montazeri was clear about that.”

Still, Azizi noted in his Twitter thread that “there is some evidence that some inside the regime are debating whether to relax, change, repackage or do something to the Hijab laws although (Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei is very unlikely to concede anything on this front.”

What do Iran’s protesters want, and where does all this leave them?

“Obviously, there has been a lot of hype over what appears to have been an off-the-cuff remark by the attorney general,” said Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. Slavin undertook multiple reporting trips to Iran when she was a USA TODAY correspondent.

“I doubt it will impact the protestors who want to see an end to the clerical-led regime, not just to be able to wear what they want,” she said.

Slavin said Iran offers no political freedom, limited personal freedom and growing poverty and international isolation. “That is hardly a winning formula.”

Three months on, there are few signs protesters are willing to relinquish their demands despite the government’s increasingly heavy-handed crackdown. On Monday, shopkeepers and truck drivers started a three-day general nationwide strike over their grievances connected to government economic mismanagement and corruption.

“I think there is no going back. The Iranians have broken their ties with this regime,” Taghi Rahmani, an exiled Iranian writer and regime critic, said in an interview published Wednesday with the Spanish newspaper EL PAÍS.

“We are experiencing the genesis of a revolution.”

Human Rights Iran, the organization Amiry-Moghaddam directs from Oslo, has tracked, since September, about 20,000 civilian arrests and just under 500 deaths from running street battles with Iran’s various security services. Eleven protesters have been sentenced to death and a further 30 are facing charges punishable by death.

On Thursday, Iran announced the first execution of a protester convicted over the recent anti-government unrest. Mohsen Shekari was hanged Thursday, state media reported. He was accused of injuring a security officer with a machete, according to the Mizan News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s judiciary.

“As of last week, 600 protesters had lost one or both eyes because of pellet guns,” he said, a testament to this being the “biggest crisis the Islamic Republic has faced since it was established” and that the protests are about far more than Iranians asking for “one or two rights. It’s about all the rights. Getting rid of the regime. Living a normal life.”

Source » usatoday