Illustration by KL./#IranProtests, 2022. KL./

By Ahmad Rafat

International media have reported extensively on recent ambiguous comments by Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, suggesting that the country had disbanded its morality police (the Guidance patrol).

Mr. Montazeri made those comments at a press conference on Dec. 3 on the ongoing protests sparked by the death of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died while in the custody of the morality police on Sept. 16.

“The Judiciary has nothing to do with the morality police,” Montazeri said. “It was shut down from where it was set up.”

While Montazeri did not say which government body supervised the operation of the morality police and who had decided to disband it, he was quick to add that “the Judiciary will continue to monitor disruptive behavior in society.”

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With or without the morality police, the mandatory hijab is a law in the Islamic Republic.

Article 638 of the Islamic Republic penal code, ratified in 2003, says: “Anyone who explicitly violates any religious offense in public besides being punished for the act itself should also be imprisoned from 10 days to two months, or should be flogged (74 lashes). If the act is not a criminal offense but violates public decency, the person will only be imprisoned from 10 days to two months, or should be flogged (74 lashes).”

The clause to the article says: “Women who appear in public without a proper hijab should be imprisoned from 10 days to two months or pay a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 rial [current exchange rate $1.6 to $10.60.]”

Police must enforce this law and arrest offenders who will be prosecuted. Therefore, disbanding a special force that enforces mandatory hijab will change nothing.

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Several state organs have enforced this law throughout the years, with the morality police being the last one, which now is reportedly being disbanded.

A day after Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri announced the disbanding of the morality police, authorities summoned the manager of a chain store in Hamadan, the capital of the western province of Hamadan, after reportedly serving customers wearing “inappropriate hijab.”

The Tehran-based Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said on Dec. 6 that the Judiciary had shut down Shahr-e Bazi amusement center in Almas Business Complex in Tehran after pictures emerged showing its staff not adhering to the “religious hijab code.”

During a gathering at the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran on Dec. 5, Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Ensiyeh Khazali, who had previously denied the existence of the morality police, said: “I never said we did not have the guidance patrol. I said we had a police [force] for safeguarding morality.”

Ms. Khazali added that she did not agree with “the current approach to enforcing the Hijab Law” but did not explain how the law should be implemented.

On the same day, Seyyed Ali Khan-Mohammadi, the spokesperson for the “Enjoying Good and Forbidding Evil HQ” (an Iranian state board on moral propriety), said in an interview: “Various state organs across the country are dealing with hijab, trying to devise ways to counter anti-hijab efforts.”

“A few people break the law and create a disturbance,” he added. “Authorities cannot be indifferent to these people because observing hijab is a legal requirement.”

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As all other state officials, Mr. Khan-Mohammadi argued that the hijab was a “public demand,” adding that the government was to decide the hijab issue “within a new framework, using the technology available in this area and in an impartial atmosphere.”

He also confirmed that the morality police had ceased operating in its existing form.

Meanwhile, authorities in Kushkan, in the northwestern province of Zanjan, demolished the family home of Elnaz Rekabi, an Iranian rock climber who competed in the Asian Games in South Korea in October with her hair uncovered.

During their operation, authorities reportedly injured Ms. Rekabi’s brother, Davoud, an accomplished rock climber himself.

Elnaz Rekabi has been under unofficial house arrest since returning from South Korea.

The recent discussions about police for safeguarding ethics and the guidance patrol aim to divert the international community’s attention from the protests that have continued for nearly three months, especially since protesters called for a three-day nationwide strike from Dec. 5 to 7.

The Islamic Republic has shifted the focus successfully, given that plans to disband the morality police have been the top Iran news in most of the international media.

However, the news has not allayed public discontent.

The news about disbanding the morality police notwithstanding, many Iranian women did not await the government’s decision on the issue and have come into the streets wearing no hijab.

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Easing restrictions on women’s attire and relaxing the Hijab Law have been proposed by reformists in the past. However, recent measures announced by the Islamic Republic to ease tension will be useless because the movement that has grown since the death of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini has much broader demands than just eradicating mandatory hijab.

A quick review of the slogans shouted by protesters since the start of the revolution 80 days ago shows that people do not want to reform but to move past the Islamic Republic. They want regime change. Many famous reformists have reached the same conclusion.

In an interview with the Tehran-based Etemad newspaper, Mohsen Mirdamadi, a prominent reformist, said: “A large segment of the Iranian population has moved past not only the reformists but everything.”

“Mahsa Amini incident lit the fuse that caused the piled-up public discontent to explode,” he added. “People do not believe the state can meet their accumulated demands.”

Commenting about a recent meeting between the head of Iran’s Judiciary, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, and several reformist politicians, Ali Shakouri-Rod, whom some believe to be the spokesperson for the “reformist front” said: “Reformists said in these meetings that people had moved past them.”

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