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Iran closes vice police after 2 months of protests, official says

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Iran abolished its morality police after more than two months of protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini following her arrest for allegedly breaking the country’s strict dress code, local media reported on Sunday.

Women-led protests, described as ‘riots’ by authorities, have swept across Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian woman of Kurdish descent died on September 16, three days after she was arrested by vice squad in Tehran.

Demonstrators burned their compulsory hijab-wearing head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans, and a growing number of women refused to wear hijab, especially in parts of Tehran.

“The morality police have nothing to do with the judicial system and have been abolished,” said Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, quoted by the ISNA news agency.

His comment came during a religious conference where he answered a question about “why the morality police were closed,” according to the report.

The move represents a rare concession to the protest movement, and authorities have also acknowledged the demoralizing effect of an economic crisis spurred by US sanctions.

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

WANA NEWS AGENCY via REUTERS


“The best way to deal with the riots is to (…) pay attention to the real demands of the people,” said spokesman for the parliament’s presidium council, Seyyed Nezamoldin Mousavi, referring to “livelihoods and to the economy” in the Islamic Republic.

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

But under hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the morality police – officially known as the Gasht-e Ershad or “Guidance Patrol” – were created to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab”.

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

They began their patrols in 2006 to enforce the dress code which also requires women to wear long clothes and prohibits shorts, ripped jeans and other clothing deemed immodest.

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

Raisi said in televised comments on Saturday that Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched “but there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible.”

The hijab became compulsory in 1983. Vice police officers first issued warnings before starting to crack down and arrest women 15 years ago.

Squads were usually made up of men in green uniforms and women in black chadors, clothing that covers the head and upper body.

The role of units has evolved, but has always been controversial.

Dress standards gradually changed, especially under moderate former President Hassan Rouhani, when it became common to see women wearing tight jeans and loose, colorful scarves.

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

Raisi charged at the time 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 has also employed morality police to enforce female dress codes and other rules of behavior. Since 2016, the force there has been sidelined in a push by the Sunni Muslim kingdom to shed its austere image.

In September, the Union of Iranian People’s Islamic Party, the country’s main reformist party, called for the repeal of the hijab law.

The party, created by relatives of former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, asks the authorities “to prepare the legal elements paving the way for the cancellation of the compulsory law on the hijab”.

On Saturday, he also called on the Islamic Republic to publicly shut down the vice police and “allow peaceful protests”.

Iran accuses its enemy the United States and its allies, including Britain and Israel, as well as 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 non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights said last week that at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces during ongoing nationwide protests”.

Thousands of people have been arrested, including prominent Iranian actors and footballers.

Among them was actor Hengameh Ghaziani, detained last month. She had posted a video of herself taking off her headgear on Instagram. She was later released on bail, Iranian news agencies reported.

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