Calls grow for Iran’s morality police to change course

In a rare move, Iranian newspapers on Thursday slammed the country’s morality police, charged with enforcing Islamic laws, after a video of a woman pleading for the release of her daughter went viral.

The criticism came as public debate over the hijab, a compulsory female headgear, resurfaced after local media reported on measures that may indicate stricter controls.

The morality police patrol the streets with a mandate to enter public places to verify the application of the headscarf law and other Islamic requirements.

Morality officers became much less common after moderate President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013, but the force has had a renewed presence in recent weeks under his successor, the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi.

The video, widely shared on social media in Iran, showed a woman standing in front of a van used by Tehran’s vice police, commonly known as Gasht-e Ershad, or “orientation patrol”. She shouted that her daughter, allegedly carried away in the van, was sick.

The veiled woman clung to the vehicle, trying to stop it as it began to slowly move forward, before finally being pushed aside. The van sped off.

The papers ring

It was unclear whether the woman’s daughter violated the hijab law or other Islamic regulations, but the reformist daily Sazandegi published a drawing of the scene on its front page on Thursday, with “Stop the morality police” as the title.

Similar calls echoed in reformist newspapers, with Arman-e Melli ask the police to be “nice” and Chargh warning that “urban peace [is] in a difficult situation.”

The video, which could not be independently verified by AFP, went viral earlier this week. Tehran police said it was a patrol in the western part of the capital.

“Following this incident…the matter was immediately investigated…and disciplinary action was taken against the head of the police patrol for mismanagement,” Tehran Police Inspectorate Chief Hamid Khorvash was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying on Thursday.

“Today, the mother of this citizen was consoled, and this citizen also appreciated the speed of processing and follow-up of this file”, he added without further details.

FILE – Vice police sealed off a barbershop for performing Western-style haircuts in Tehran on June 16, 2008.

Political debate

The debate has also made its way onto the political scene.

Hassan Khomeini, a reformist figure and grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, posted the scene on Instagram.

“Whatever it is, it’s not guidance, it’s not Islamic, it’s not wise and has no benefit,” he wrote on his official page, which has more than 600,000 subscribers, Tuesday.

Ahmad Khatami, a conservative member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts responsible for electing the Islamic republic’s supreme leader, defended those responsible for morality and said the hijab law “must be enforced”.

“Unfortunately, some people do not observe the hijab and even remove their coverings in public places, which is against the law,” he told the ISNA news agency on Thursday.

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iranian law has required all women, regardless of nationality or religious beliefs, to wear hijabs that cover the head and neck while concealing hair.

Repel

Many have pushed the envelope over the past two decades by allowing the hijab to slide back and reveal more hair, especially in Tehran and other major cities, and the actions of the morality police have already been criticized.

Rouhani, then president, warned in 2018 that “promoting virtue will not work through violence”, after a video emerged of a violent encounter between a woman and morality officers.

This month, local media reported that women in Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad, were banned from taking the metro unless they were wearing head coverings, and three cafes were closed in the central city of Qom because customers were not wearing headscarves.

Raisi, who came to power last year, this month called for hijab laws and rules to be implemented “in full”, state media reported.

He stressed that “the enemies of Iran and Islam” target “the religious foundations and values ​​of society”, IRNA reported July 5.

“Necessary and preventive measures must be taken”, added the president, asking the competent institutions – including the morality police – “to take systematic and integrated measures in this regard”.

Denise W. Whigham