The Iranian government will reportedly do away with its morality police, according to Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri of Iran.
Iran has been gripped by unrest since the death of a twenty-two-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of the morality police. She was arrested for “improper dress.
The dissolution of the morality police, officially known as the Gasht-e Ershad, or “Guidance Patrol,” would be a major win for the protest movement, which has been active in Iran since Amini’s death.
A win for protestors?
Protestors have been calling for the dissolution of the morality police and an end to strict laws mandating the wearing of the hijab since the death of Amini in September.
Montazeri seemed to confirm that the morality police would be disbanded in comments he made to the IRNA news agency on Saturday evening. “Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary and was shut down by the same place that it had been launched from in the past,” Montazeri said.
The attorney general also announced that Iran’s Parliament and the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution are set to review the country’s stance on mandatory hijab (headscarves) and release a report within two weeks.
The disbandment of the morality police and revocation of certain religious and moral laws would be major concessions by the Iranian government. Montazeri’s comments may indicate that the government is now more open to compromise after months of unrest.
The Iranian government’s response thus far has mostly been to crack down on the demonstrations. It is believed that at least one thousand protestors have been brought to face trial in the Tehran Province alone.
The unrest has also led to violence. On September 21st, an Iranian woman, Najafi Hadis, was present during protests in the city of Karaj when she was shot and killed. Most reports indicate that she was shot by the Iranian police. The authorities denied this and blamed the protestors.
The morality police
The morality police, or guidance patrol, was set up in Iran in 2005. Their role is to impose Islamic dress codes and social norms. Individuals deemed to be behaving in an non-Islamic way may be reprimanded by the force.
In particular, the patrols are responsible for ensuring that women are dressed properly according to certain Islamic standards. This typically means the wearing of a hijab or headscarf.
According to Brigadier-General Hossein Rahimi, the police chief in Tehran, Amini was arrested for wearing tight trousers and improperly wearing her hijab. Iranian police continue to deny allegations that she was beaten and tortured to death. They instead claim she suffered a heart attack and died.
A typical unit of the morality police consists of men and women. Patrols are mostly conducted in vans. The units patrol busy public spaces looking for religious and moral impropriety.
Support for the protests and condemnation of Amini’s death have been widespread in Western countries. For instance, the EU agreed to levy sanctions against Iran following the crackdown on protestors.
The issue has received notable attention at international sporting events. Iranian athlete Elnaz Rekabi was greeted as a hero upon her return to Iran after choosing to compete in a rock climbing event in South Korea without a headscarf.
During a game at this year’s already controversial FIFA World Cup tournament in Qatar, the Iranian team failed to sing their country’s national anthem in an apparent act of solidarity with protestors back home.
Will the Iranian government really disband the morality police?
Some commentators have cautioned that the Iranian government may not go ahead with the move to abolish the morality police.
Kamran Matin, a senior lecturer of international relations at the University of Sussex, told DW, “Such an announcement should really be announced by that institution and that hasn’t happened yet.”
Iranian media outlets have said that punishments for “morality offenses,” including the death penalty, will continue. Montazeri himself insisted that “of course, the judiciary continues to monitor behavioral actions.”