Iran Denies Reports of Dissolution of ‘Morality Police’

The hijab rule is part and parcel of the regime’s ideology, and backing out now would make the regime look weak and invite further public demands. 

AP/Alessandra Tarantino
An Iran team supporter cries as she holds a shirt that reads 'Mahsa Amini' prior to the start of the World Cup group B soccer match between Wales and Iran, at Al Rayyan, Qatar. AP/Alessandra Tarantino

Iranian state-controlled media Sunday denied reports that a hijab-enforcing unit, popularly known as the morality police, has been dismantled following breathless declarations in the western media that the Tehran regime is caving to months of public protests by Iranian feminists and their supporters.

“Iran shutting down morality police, official says, after months of protests,” a New York Times headline blared Sunday morning. The Wall Street Journal and other major publications sent push notifications in the same vein to their readers. 

The story emerged late Saturday night after the Islamic Republic’s equivalent of America’s attorney general spoke with reporters at Tehran. “In a press conference, someone asked top prosecutor, Jafar Montazeri, why was the Guidance Patrol not around anymore,” an Iranian-born author, Arash Azizi, wrote on Twitter. 

“Montazeri said the patrol wasn’t the business of the judiciary but of the police,” the tweet continued. The prosecutor then said, “they launched it and they shut it themselves.” Mr. Azizi added that “Mr. Montazeri ‘quickly added that the Judiciary would still monitor’ behavior in society.” 

“Iran’s regime media have also been quick at work, clarifying the issue and denying that Guidance Patrol has been shut,” Mr. Azizi reports. 

The patrol, known as the morality police, has had a major role in enforcing rules first dictated by the regime’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini. A fundamental part of the Islamic Republic’s ethos, these rules include mandatory hair-covering for women and girls, banning females from attending sport stadiums, and forbidding them to dance, sing, and perform other artistic functions in public. 

The morality police was established in 2005 by a former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In September, its members arrested a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian visitor to Tehran, Mahsa Amini, for inadequately donning the mandatory hijab.

Following Amini’s death in the morality police’s custody, a new revolutionary movement protesting against the mullahs has grown around the country, calling to abolish the Islamic Republic. At least 450 people have been killed in clashes between armed enforcers and protesters since the start of the uprising, according to independent human rights groups based outside the country.

As the protests grew, the morality police lowered its profile and hijab enforcement has abated, according to an Iran watcher at Tel Aviv University, Raz Zimmt. On Twitter Mr. Zimmt writes that Mr. Montazeri’s remarks reflect a major dilemma for the regime, and that top officials are likely having a major debate behind closed doors. 

On the one hand, the need to quell the uprising dictates lowering activities of the morality police, which has been a focal point for the protesters. On the other, the hijab rule is part and parcel of the regime’s ideology, and backing out now would make the regime look weak and invite further public demands. 

The speed with which the Iranian press jumped to counter the western press account of Mr. Montazeri’s statement signals that a relaxation of oppressive rules like hijab enforcement is not in the cards under the extremist president, Ebrahim Raisi, and the hardliner supreme leader,  Ali Khamenei. Also, armed attacks on any form of dissent are far from over. 

“It’s disinformation that Islamic Republic of Iran has abolished its morality police. It’s a tactic to stop the uprising,” a Brooklyn-based Iranian American who has for years objected publicly to the hijab rules, and is now a leader of the uprising, Masih Alinejad, wrote on Twitter.

Admonishing the “international media,” Ms. Alinejad says the morality police incident shows the regime’s fear and desperation and that the Iranian people remain united. “Protesters are not facing guns and bullets to abolish morality police or forced hijab,” she writes. “They want to end Islamic regime.”

The New York Sun

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