Iran Says It Hasn't Abolished the Hijab-Enforcing Morality Police — Here's Why Reports Claimed Otherwise

Iran morality police
Iran morality police

Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto via Getty Iran's morality police

Hours after The New York Times, citing a top Iranian official, reported that the Iran's morality police had been disbanded, the nation's government-run media began pushing back, claiming that the controversial police force remains intact.

The Times on Sunday reported on recent comments made by Iran's attorney general regarding the morality police, formally called Guidance Patrol, an oppressive arm of the country's government which has been globally criticized amid recent protests.

Iran Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted over the weekend as saying in a meeting that the morality police "was abolished by the same authorities who installed it."

The Times, in turn, reported that the police force had been "abolished," drawing a connection between the disbanding of the force and the ongoing anti-government protests.

But state media quickly pushed back on that assessment, leading to a lack of clarity regarding whether or not Iran is actively policing women for what they wear.

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The state television network Al-Alam on Sunday said that Montazeri's words had been misinterpreted and that "no official of the Islamic Republic of Iran has said that the Guidance Patrol has been shut," CNN reports.

"Some foreign media have attempted to interpret these words by the prosecutor-general as the Islamic Republic retreating from the issue of Hijab and modesty and claim that it is due to the recent riots," Al-Alam reported, per CNN.

A picture obtained by AFP outside Iran on September 21, 2022, shows Iranian demonstrators burning a rubbish bin in the capital Tehran during a protest for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody. - Protests spread to 15 cities across Iran overnight over the death of the young woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country's morality police, state media reported today.In the fifth night of street rallies, police used tear gas and made arrests to disperse crowds of up to 1,000 people, the official IRNA news agency said.

AFP via Getty Iran protests

Iran's morality police force has been the subject of international controversy since mid-September, when a 22-year-old Iranian woman was detained by the police for allegedly wearing a hijab too loosely.

Following her arrest, Mahsa Amini died in police custody, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield previously explained to PEOPLE.

"She was arrested and taken into police custody for what they call an 'educational and reorientation class,'" Thomas-Greenfield said. "Some hours later, she was transferred to the hospital in a coma and she died two days later."

While Amini's family was told by Iranian police that she had suffered from a heart condition, her family has disputed that assessment, saying she had no heart ailment and that bruises seen on her body indicated she had been tortured.

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Iranian women have taken to the streets to protest Amini's death in the weeks and months since, facing violence and even death themselves as the eyes of the world have turned to the morality police, which the U.S. State Department has described as an organization that enforces "restrictions on freedom of expression."

Thomas-Greenfield said earlier that similar law enforcement arms which police "morality" have been seen elsewhere in the world, including in Afghanistan, where the Ministry of Vice and Virtue became a notorious symbol of arbitrary abuses during the previous Taliban reign of the mid-1990s.

"These [law enforcement agencies governing morality] tend to be particularly harsh against women," Thomas-Greenfield said.

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State Department Secretary Antony Blinken announced in October that the U.S. had imposed sanctions both on Iran's morality police and on "senior security officials who have engaged in serious human rights abuses."

"These officials oversee organizations that routinely employ violence to suppress peaceful protesters and members of Iranian civil society, political dissidents, women's rights activists, and members of the Iranian Baha'i community," the Treasury Department said in a statement at the time.