Iranian officials declare end to ‘morality police’ in bow to protests

Iran protesters set fire to former Supreme Leader's house

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Iran could be abolishing the morality police in a bow to protesters, a senior official in the regime has announced. Speaking over the weekend, Attorney General Mohammad Javad Montazeri claimed the outfit was being scrapped and that the rules dictating that women must wear hijab or head coverings were being “reviewed”. The claims have not been verified by the regime but several officials, when questioned about Mr Montazeri’s comments, declined to deny its truth. Several senior officials have dodged the questions while state media have suggested the attorney general’s comments were taken out of context. The morality police were sanctioned by the US Government in September following the death of Ms Amini. 

Mr Montazeri said the morality police “was abolished by the same authorities who installed it” during a meeting at which officials were discussing the unrest in Iran. 

He said: “The guidance patrol has nothing to do with the judiciary and it was closed by the same authority under which it was established. 

“Of course, the judiciary continues to monitor behaviour at the community level.”

If the reports are true, it would mark the first major backdown from the clerical regime in the face of nationwide protests. 

Nearly 14,000 people have been arrested for protesting against the regime since September 16, when Ms Amini was killed, and more than 600 people have died, according to the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (MEK). 

It is unlikely, however, even if the reports are confirmed, that the protests will be pacified by the backdown, with the brutality of the regime more than ever measured by the number of protesters they have murdered. 

Under the current rules, imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and recently invigorated by the country’s new hardline conservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, women are required to cover their head and body. 

Liberal women in Iran have been attempting to push the boundaries of what is acceptable, fighting against the discriminatory and restrictive measures.

The morality police’s primary role is to enforce the strict dress code, which is seen as an ideological pillar of the theocratic regime and is central to its identity.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, when asked about the abolishment of the morality police at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, where he was on an official visit, did not deny it. 

He said: “In Iran, everything is moving forward well in the framework of democracy and freedom.”

The Arabic-language state media channel Al Alam suggested the comments by Mr Montazeri had been taken out of context. 

Several other channels suggested the government would not back down from the mandatory hijab law. 

Those in opposition to the regime have since said the abolishing of the morality police will not stop the protests, nor will it improve the situation for women. 

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Shadi Sadr, a prominent human rights lawyer who has fought for women’s rights in Iran for decades, said on Twitter that scrapping the morality police was immaterial because the “hijab is still compulsory and enforced by other means such as expulsion from university or school”. The protest will not end, she said, “until the regime is gone.”

A member of the Iranian Parliament, Jalal Rashidi Koochi, said that abolishing the morality police would be “a praiseworthy action but late.”

He said: “I wish we had seen this action before all these events took place because we can see how some policies and behaviours damage the nation’s stability and the public’s trust in the government.”

Gissou Nia, a human rights lawyer who leads the board at the US-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, said the demonstrations had evolved since the early days after Ms. Amini was killed.

She said: “The bottom line is that the protests are now about challenging the entirety of the system, and the extreme gender discriminatory laws that mandate compulsory hijab and restrictions on women’s rights to marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance are all still in place.”

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