Iran’s alleged disbanding of the morality police will not secure the safety of Iranian women

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Dec 5, 2022 at 12:02 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

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.

What is the morality police?

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.

Will protests continue now the morality police is potentially going to be disbanded?

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.

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