Iranian authorities have declared the revival of the morality police's operations, suspended following the protest in July 2022. The morality police, also known as the "guidance patrols (Gasht-e Ershad), enforce the Islamic dress code in Iran. They have been criticized for their heavy-handed tactics, and their presence has often led to tension and unrest.
Saeed Montazerolmahdi, the Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran (FARAJA) spokesman, announced on July 17 that the resumption of activities comes in "response to the demands of the people and various social groups and institutions." He added that President Ebrahim Raisi and Chief Justice Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei supported the decision with "the aim of enhancing and upholding public security and strengthening the family foundation." The spokesperson expressed "appreciation and gratitude to the girls and women of Iran who adhere to social norms and conventional clothing, contributing to the mental peace of society."
Montazerolmahdi said that starting July 16," the police will re-establish car and foot patrols nationwide "to address individuals who persistently defy the dress code by wearing unconventional clothing. These individuals will be warned and reminded of the consequences, and if they fail to comply with police orders, legal action will be taken, and they will be referred to the judicial system".
FARAJA's spokesperson stressed the importance of "maintaining social cohesion and public security in society and called upon everyone, especially the intelligent girls, whose existence shapes the future of Iran, to maintain the sanctity of clothing and observe accepted norms."
To crack down on women who defy Iran's compulsory dress code, security apparatuses installed (April 2023) cameras in public places such as parks, shopping malls, and government buildings to identify and penalize them. After being identified, women not wearing a hijab will receive a warning text message. If they continue to violate the dress code, they could face further consequences, such as fines or arrest.
Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi, a member of Iran's Majlis national security and Foreign Policy committee, strongly objects to the revival of hijab police patrols and warns that such a move is destructive and will erode public trust, potentially leading to the regime's overthrow. Jahanabadi believes the crackdown is an insult to the people, leading to more emigration of educated and professional groups and creating public fear, thus becoming a new challenge for the Islamic Republic. He added that the absence of any party willing to take responsibility for the guidance patrols indicates the flawed nature of this policy. The lack of acceptance from the government, judiciary, police, and other entities suggests that the Irshad patrol lacks a rational basis for its implementation.
He concluded by saying that the governance of the country cannot solely rely on the police but rather on the acceptance and implementation of respect and law by the people. "We are a religious nation with a moral history even before the revolution, and our society continues to hold these values. One day, guidance (Irshad) will be removed from our society for good, yet Iran's religious identity will persist". Other politicians and pundits also warn that the hijab crackdown could trigger new anti-regime protests.
As anticipated, the decision has sparked intense criticism on social media, particularly from individuals aligned with the reformist camp. Reformist commentator Ahmad Zeidabad wrote on his Twitter account: "Bottom line! The Islamic Republic faces two possible approaches concerning the hijab issue. The first approach involves making the hijab optional ( #حجاب_اختیاری ), allowing individuals to choose whether to adhere to it or not. The second approach, however, is not a viable solution but rather a deceptive strategy driven by the pressure of radical and intolerant elements. The potential costs of following this path, as perceived by some fanatics and extremists, could be unimaginable for the people, the country, and the government. If the government succumbs to the demands of the radical class and enforces compulsory hijab, it would need to massively expand its prison capacity, as imprisonment alone may not serve as a sufficient deterrent. The forced imposition of hijab would require widespread punishment, making it an unsettling and unfortunate scenario that should not be taken lightly. Don't take it as a joke".
The "Guidance Patrol" redeployment" announcement came just two days after a video surfaced on social media depicting women coerced into covering their hair in Andarzgoo Blvd, Tehran. (VIDEO)
The origin of the video remains uncertain, but it was widely circulated and attributed to a Telegram account allegedly linked IRGC apparatus. In the video, a digitally altered voice of a man can be heard warning women to adhere to the hijab requirement. The unidentified man says to one woman: "You believe in freedom? We'll let rapists and thieves roam free to deal with you." In another threatening message: "The requirement to wear hijab is a law in this country; failure to comply will result in being apprehended by a van."
Conservative (Jahannwes) media echoed the video under the headline "Serious consequences for those who break the norms in Tehran's Andarzgoo Street." In contrast, the state-run media attempted to distance the government from the intimidation video. "Iran" newspaper Twitter account reads: "Despite the emphasis of the country's high-ranking officials on adopting a cultural approach to promote hijab and address non-compliance, publishing content that turns hijab into a security issue and polarizes society may yield unintended results."
Meanwhile, another viral video surfaced from the same channel depicting a woman arguing vigorously with an apparent morality police officer and telling him: “I am a woman, and I am not afraid of you or anybody else…shame on you…what law was broken…I choose what to wear". (VIDEO)
Meanwhile, the Majlis is reviewing a bill prepared by the government and judiciary to "protect the culture of chastity and hijab." Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said on July 12 that the legislation was undergoing a "final" review and that "If we rush through this bill, we may think we've completed the task, but it could lead to more complex issues in the future, giving our enemies an opportunity," He stressed we are advancing the process of approving the hijab law by "organizing extensive and urgent expert meetings with the participation of myself, specialized Majlis commissions, and the Majlis research center. There will be no delays, and you can expect to witness its review in the Majlis very soon".
In June, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the Speaker of the Mjlis, reiterated his stern warning to women who defy the compulsory hijab, stating that "firm and decisive action" will be taken against them. Simultaneously, Ahmadreza Radan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Police Force, emphasized that the institution under his command prioritizes "creating fear" and "authoritative action" when dealing with women in such matters.
Meanwhile, A director from Iran's culture ministry, responsible for enforcing hijab laws, has been dismissed following the leak of a sex tape involving him and a young man. The scandal has led to his removal under the directive of President Ebrahim Raisi’s culture minister. The Iranian government has not yet commented on the matter, but the culture minister stated that several managers were fired for failing to adhere to implementing the hijab law seriously. The dismissed director had been known as a staunch advocate of mandatory hijab and had recently promoted initiatives to strengthen hijab enforcement in Gilan province. The exposure caused a wave of comments and jokes on social networks, and the alleged leaked video went viral.
The enforcement of hijab laws in Iran has become deeply intertwined with the country's political landscape. As a significant policy that symbolizes the government's authority, it has become challenging for the authorities to retreat from its implementation. The hijab laws play a crucial role in representing the government's power and maintaining its control over societal norms and values. Consequently, any attempt to back away from these laws could be perceived as a sign of weakness or a loss of authority, making it a complex and sensitive issue for the Iranian authorities to address.
Most Iranians widely regard forced veiling as a symbol of women's oppression, and has been met with opposition in Iran since the revolution. Over the past decade, protests on this issue have intensified, culminating in early 2018 when hundreds of women boldly took to the streets of Tehran and other major cities, removing their head coverings in defiance.
Despite the risk of provoking another wave of protests, about a year after the initial outbreak, the Iranian regime has decided to activate the morality police once again. The government appears confident in handling potential protests, seemingly unfazed by the international community's lack of solid action against human rights violations in Iran.
However, Iran's economic problems persist and worsen, and the regime's achievements in regional and international affairs do little to address the economic challenges threatening its stability. Although the initial protests were violently suppressed, the underlying discontent continued to simmer, posing a constant threat of eruption.
The regime's move to reinforce the hijab, through both legislation and deploying morality police forces on the streets, reflects its failure to respond to citizens' demands and the increasing sense of despair and frustration among the populace.
In the absence of solutions to fundamental issues, the regime is escalating repression measures within civil society while attempting to neutralize potential risks to its stability, particularly in the context of the hijab, a distinct symbol of the revolution. This intensified enforcement also reflects the ongoing process of autocratization since the conservatives gained control over the country's centers of power following President Raisi's election in June 2021.
Although these measures may provide short-term control for the regime, they exacerbate the divide between the government and the people, fostering a spirit of defiance among the public, particularly if economic and social conditions deteriorate further.