Uncertainty over Iran’s disbandment of morality police

THERE is uncertainty over the alleged abolishment of morality police in Iran, following massive protests sparked by the death of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who died on September 16, three days after her arrest for flouting the country’s strict dress code.

Women in the country are commanded to wear modest clothing and the hijab headscarf, but Amini’s death drew criticisms from human rights organisations and the international community, as some women publicly burned their scarves in a defiant act of resistance to the strict rule for dressing.

The Iranian government took measures, including restricting access to Whatsapp and Instagram and other Internet services to control the protests.

Two weeks ago, in a surprise move, Iran players refused to sing their national anthem before the start of their World Cup match against England at the Khalifa International Stadium and fans also booed their anthem.

Iran’s Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, in a surprise move at the weekend, was quoted as saying that the morality police units known as gasht-e ershad (guidance patrol), had been closed down.

“The morality police had nothing to do with the judiciary and have been shut down from where they were set up,” he said.

He stressed that the judiciary would continue “to monitor behavioural actions at the community level”.

However, the Guidance Patrol is part of the national police force and control lies with the interior ministry and not with the judiciary.

Moreso, the government did not confirm the move and local media reported that his remarks had been “misinterpreted”.

Human rights activists were also sceptical about Montazeri’s comments, which appeared to be an impromptu response to a question at a conference rather than a clearly published announcement by the interior ministry.

In addition, they said, abolishing the morality police would mark no change to Iran’s headscarf policy, which is a key ideological pillar for its clerical leadership, but rather a switch in tactics on enforcing it.

“Unless they remove all legal restrictions on women’s dress and the laws controlling citizens’ private lives, this is just a PR move… nothing prevents other law enforcement bodies from policing the discriminatory laws,”
Co-founder of the US-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center rights group, Roya Boroumand, told AFP.

Iran’s Prosecutor General said on Thursday that the nation’s mandatory hijab law is being reviewed by the country’s parliament and judiciary.

“We know you feel anguished when you witness (women) without a hijab in cities, do you think the officials are silent about it? As someone who is in the field of this issue, I say that both the parliament and the judiciary are working.

“For example, just yesterday we had a meeting with the cultural commission of the parliament, and you will see the results within the next week or two,” Montazeri was reported by state-affiliated media ISNA to have said.

Meanwhile, the United States Treasury Department has announced sanctions against seven Iranian security and morality police officials whom they accused of violating the rights of women, civil society activists and peaceful protesters.

    The sanctions target the head of Iran’s notorious morality police Mohammad Rostami Cheshmeh Gachi, the force’s director for Tehran Haj Ahmad Mirzaei and the Minister of Intelligence Esmail Khatib.

    The US sanctions also target Salar Abnoush, deputy commander of the Basij forces, Qasem Rezaei, deputy commander of Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), Manouchehr Amanollahi, an LEF provincial commander, and Kiyumars Heidari, the commander of the Iranian army’s ground forces.

    Under the sanctions, all properties and assets of these Iranian officials in the United States will be blocked and any financial dealings with them, in the US and abroad, are prohibited.

    “The ultimate goal of sanctions is not to punish, but to bring about a positive change in behavior,” the Treasury statement added.

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