On Sunday 4 December, Iran’s attorney general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, announced that the country’s highly controversial morality police would be disbanded. This decision comes after months of protests following the death of Mahsa Amini—at the hands of sed authority.
According to the BBC, Montazeri had been attending a religious event when he made the statement in question. After facing a number of questions regarding the subject, he responded: “The morality police had nothing to do with the judiciary and have been shut down from where they were set up.”
A number of political commentators, as well as citizens living in Iran, have questioned whether or not this alleged disbanding will actually impact the treatment of the female population within the nation. Iran International—a news broadcaster which specialises on coverage of the Middle East—has implied that this may be a strategic move from the government to try and appease the protestors—performatively suggesting that it will be easing up on restrictions.
The news outlet went on to report that Montazeri did also reaffirm the judiciary’s right to monitor behavioural conduct among the Iranian people. And there has been no word from the law enforcement that controls the hijab police, or the presidential administration, thereby leading people to believe these recent statements may be no more than a publicity stunt.
For those of you who might be unaware, the morality police are an authoritarian police force that has existed in one form or another in Iran since 2006. While its power has shifted back and forth depending on the residing regime, overall, it is seen as a very influential aspect of Iranian life.
The primary focus of this police force is to oversee the public dress code—particularly when it comes to women. Its focus is on ensuring citizens are following Islamic laws. In Iran, all women above the age of puberty must wear a head covering and loose clothing in public, although the exact age is not clearly defined.
Also sometimes referred to as “guidance patrols,” the units continuously walk the streets, spreading fear as they go.
In response to the recent crackdown, some Iranian women have taken to defying the hyper-conservative dress code. Due to the extremely vague laws, many women have chosen to interpret them in their own way. However, this lack of clarity has also led to the morality police justifying horrific acts of violence towards those it considers to have broken the rules.
22-year-old Mahsa Amini was detained for wearing her hijab too loosely on 13 September 2022. Six days later, she died. Eyewitnesses saw Amini getting beaten, tortured and insulted by the police unit, as reported by Sky News. What followed was a wave of nation-wide street protests—predominantly charged forward by Iranian women.
There is still a great amount of doubt in regard to whether or not the morality police will be disbanded. The primary concern is that even if the Islamic guidance patrol is removed from the streets of Iran, the mandatory hijab laws will stay in place—therefore, the lives of women living within the country will continue to be threatened.
Al Jazeera has reported that even if this inherently ‘visible’ enforcement is removed, authorities have hinted at putting other measures in place to ensure women are following the hijab laws correctly. For example, some politicians have mentioned the use of covert cameras and artificial intelligence to catch perceived offenders.
It seems apparent that the infringement of civil rights will continue to motivate protests across Iran in the coming months. Deemed by The New Yorker as “one of the most significant revolutions in modern history,” while these recent statements by Iranian officials might provide some clarity moving forward—and remove an immediate threat—it appears unlikely that it will quell the magnitude and resilience of this women-led global movement.
Any UK-based individual who frequents the world wide web will be well aware of the latest Just Stop Oil climate protest—you know, the one that involved two cans of Heinz tomato soup. Well, this latest form of activism subsequently resulted in the short-lived birth—and death—of a wild TikTok conspiracy theory.
In case you indulged in a digital detox over the weekend, let’s do a quick recap. On Friday 14 October 2022, two Just Stop Oil activists entered the National Gallery in the heart of London armed with super glue and tomato soup. Moments later, they threw the pulpy liquid over Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ painting and proceeded to glue their hands to the wall.
In video footage of the event, one of the activists, 21-year-old Phoebe Plummer, can be heard exclaiming, “What is worth more, art or life? Is it worth more than food? More than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?”
“The cost of living crisis is part of the cost of the oil crisis, fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup,” Plummer continued.
According to The Guardian, not long after this, Plummer and fellow activist Anna Holland were escorted out of the museum and arrested for criminal damages and aggravated trespassing. It should be noted that the painting was protected by a glass screen—a factor that Just Stop Oil claimed they took into consideration.
While shocking to some, this may appear as solely an escalation in action among a series of Just Stop Oil environmental protests that have been popping up across the capital over the past few weeks. The UK-based organisation is a coalition of different groups and, according to its website, is motivated by its primary goal which is securing a government ban of “new licences and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK.”
Just recently, the group blocked a number of major London roads—glueing themselves to the tarmac and displaying banners which call upon the government to enact a moratorium on all upcoming oil and gas projects, as reported by The Guardian.
This most recent disruption at the National Gallery, however, sent shockwaves through the ether, particularly after certain netizens began claiming that the attack on the Van Gogh painting was secretly funded by Big Oil themselves as a publicity stunt to depict climate activists as evil, malicious… and supposedly anti-art?
In a recently uploaded TikTok video that has since been removed, a woman claimed that Just Stop Oil’s latest protest is nothing more than a facade, conjured up to portray climate activists negatively. Her evidence? The fact that the environmental activist group has, in the past, received large donations from Big Oil heiress Aileen Getty, the granddaughter of industry mogul, Jean Paul Getty.
Before we venture into the debunking of this conspiracy theory, it should be noted that, on the surface, it’s not insanely far-fetched. Getty does come from a dynasty of oil, her family having been involved in the industry for over a century. Therefore, it would not be completely absurd to consider the possibility that she funded Just Stop Oil—and its most outrageous protests—in an attempt to influence public opinion.
If we take a closer look, however, we can see that this just isn’t the case. Upon a quick Google search for ‘Aileen Getty’, you almost immediately come across the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF). This organisation specialises in funding and supporting disruptive protests and activists to have a transformative impact on protecting humanity and the living world.
Getty is the founding donor of the CEF and, as reported by NPR, contributed $500,000 to kickstart the organisation. While she may have foundations in oil, the heiress has gone to extreme lengths to support the climate emergency cause. The Aileen Getty Foundation has also shifted a bulk of vital resources to different organisations—such as Just Stop Oil—and individuals who are addressing the climate emergency.
As aptly noted by TikTok user Tom Nicholas, “Aileen Getty’s well-documented and well-publicised donations to climate action groups appear to be more the result of being someone who feels guilty of where her family’s wealth has come from, rather than any kind of attempt to undermine the climate movement.”
Only two years ago, in 2020, The New York Times credited Getty with acknowledging her family’s past impact on climate change and for taking steps to actively remove fossil fuels from her portfolio in favour of sustainable investments.
Just Stop Oil is a tenacious coalition of activists and as long as its protest tactics continue and catch nationwide attention, I’m sure that a cohort of ‘follow-the-money’ conspiracy theories will trail right behind.