What we know about Iran’s notorious ‘morality police’ and how it operates
It has been nearly three months that Iran has been on the boil. And the trigger for these violent protests, which have left over 200 people dead, is the country’s fanatical ‘morality police’. The protests have been raging since the mysterious death of a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of this heavy-handed force, which had arrested her on September 16 for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly. Now, while Iran’s attorney general has said that the ‘morality police’ has been disbanded, whether this has indeed been done is debatable.
What is Iran’s ‘morality police’?
“Gasht-e-Ershad”, which translates into ‘guidance patrols’ – now infamous as Iran’s ‘morality police’ – is a unit of the nation’s police force that was established under the regime of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
While these guidance patrols have been in existence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, wearing a hijab was made mandatory in Iran for Muslim and non-Muslim women in 1983. And the ‘morality police’ was tasked with enforcing the Islamic dress code in public spaces – including for those men found to be ‘immorally’ attired or sporting ‘Western-style’ haircuts. Since 2006, these guidance patrols have been combing the streets of the West Asian country, reprimanding, slapping, beating with batons and also taking into custody women found to be in violation of the dress code.
The ‘guidance patrols’ include both men (in green uniforms) and women (in black chadors) and are currently part of the police force. The Gasht-e-Ershad reports to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, though the elected government also has a say in its activities through the country’s interior ministry.
What is the Iranian dress code for women that the ‘morality police’ enforces?
Iranian social regulations, an interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, mandate that all women above the age of puberty cover their heads. They are also supposed to wear loose clothing in public. And girls above the age of seven are required to wear a hijab in school.
Since no clear-cut dos and don’ts are listed, what is acceptable and what isn’t is left to the judgement of the ‘morality police’. Hence, arbitrary action, including detention, is not uncommon.
Those detained by the guidance patrol are taken to a police station or a detention centre. They are left off after a lecture on values and after they have called someone to get them ‘acceptable’ clothes.
For years, Iranian women have challenged these oppressive diktats, and the issue has now come to a head with Mahsa Amini’s death. Amini had allegedly been brutally beaten by the ‘morality police’, an accusation that the Iranian government has denied.
Iranian authorities are currently reviewing the decades-old law that has fuelled massive protests. Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying that the morality police “was abolished by the same authorities who installed it”. However, there is no clarity on its abolition yet.
Amid these conflicting reports, protesters in Iran have called for a three-day strike this week, The Guardian reported.
Montazeri on Sunday said, “Both Parliament and the judiciary are working [on the issue],” and added that the results will come in a week or two.
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