The role of the morality police in Iran, which has come under increased scrutiny amid contradictory reports that the unit may be disbanded after months of protests sparked by the death of a young woman in their custody, is unclear.
According to Iran’s attorney general, the operations of the morality police, known as the Gasht-e-Ershad, have been suspended, and dress code enforcement, which is a large part of its duties, will be reviewed.
In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad established the Gasht-e-Ershad, a police unit dubbed the “guidance patrol,” to monitor citizens and enforce Iran’s strict Islamic code.
Iran’s Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution passed a resolution on ‘strategies to develop a culture of chastity’ after reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who succeeded him, paved the way for the creation of the morality police.
A morality police squad, which is often composed of and supported by the Basij, a paramilitary group that fought in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, monitors people’s attire and conduct at Iranian universities, where men and women are educated together for the first time in a mixed educational environment.
Male and female officers make up a morality police unit, either patrolling in a vehicle or positioning themselves in prominent public areas. They seek out individuals who violate the Iranian clergy’s strict interpretation of Islamic law regarding behaviour and clothing.
Police officers from Iran’s morality squad stop a car to check if the driver and passengers are properly clothed.
Women must abide by the standards of appropriate dress, which includes covering their heads. Those who violate the policy are either admonished or taken to a correction facility or police station and counselled on how to behave morally before being freed to their families.
Mahsa Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman aged 22, died in the custody of the morality police in Tehran in mid-September, drawing increased attention to their role.
The nationwide protests have grown into calls for Iran’s clerical rulers to be overthrown after Amini’s death, who was allegedly held for violating the dress code.
Reports of decreased morality police presence across Iranian cities and an increase in women walking without headscarves since September have contradicted Iranian law.
Iran’s government is paying attention to the people’s real demands, state media reported Sunday, a day after a high judiciary official said the morality police had been disbanded.
The morality police have been closed, according to Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri. State media has not reported on the purported decision, which was announced Saturday by ISNA, a semi-official news outlet.