As the anniversary of Mahsa Amini's death in custody last September approaches, the return of Iran's infamous Gasht-e-Irshad ("morality police") has been met with dismay. However, the women who participated in the nationwide protests following Amini's death on 16 September 2022 are undeterred and determined to return to the streets. A police spokesperson confirmed the resumption of patrolling the streets to enforce strict hijab laws just two months before the solemn occasion.
Women interviewed for the "Guardian" report have expressed their defiance, asserting that despite the renewed presence of the morality police, they will continue to fight for their rights and freedom. They vow to plan and participate in significant protests leading to the anniversary and will not be cowed by intimidation or arrests. One woman said, "We are not afraid of the morality police."
Mahsa Piraei, daughter of Minoo Majidi, who was killed during the protests, said “By intensifying repressions, arrests, and harassment under the pretext of hijab law, the Islamic Republic sends a message to the Iranian people: that we will beat and kill, and if anyone protests, they will be killed too, just like they killed my mother. This circle will continue as (long as) this regime will remain in power, as its foundation is built upon violence and crimes."
Reporters Nilufar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi played significant roles in exposing Amini's case to the world, with Hamedi reporting from the hospital where she passed away and Mohammadi covering her funeral. Elaheh Mohammadi, the Iranian journalist imprisoned for reporting on Mahsa Amini's death, faced her final hearing on July 26, 2023, at Branch 15 of Iran's Revolutionary Court. Contrary to her request, the hearing was held behind closed doors. She has been detained since September, along with other women. She is facing charges of "collaborating with the hostile government of America, conspiracy and collusion to commit crimes against national security, and propaganda against the establishment." Despite widespread calls for the trials to be open to the public, they remain closed, and the women were only allowed to meet their lawyers recently.
The redeployment of the morality police, the upcoming Mahsa Amini anniversary, and the trials of Elaheh Mohammadi and Nilufar Hamedi are making waves on social networks. One social activist, representing many, tweeted, "If courage spreads widely, the Islamic Republic's presence on the global stage could vanish in a mere hour. Our vulnerability lies in our self-centeredness and internal apprehension stemming from our divisions and disunity. What we truly require is solidarity and unity." However, despite this sentiment, the opposition to the regime remains weak, divided, and disorganized domestically and abroad.
In response to the anniversary of the protests, the Iranian regime is intensifying its supervision and monitoring of social networks, often resulting in arrests following reports on these platforms. The regime's economic and governance challenges have fueled disputes within the conservative camp, which currently holds sway over governmental institutions and power centers. The regime now faces its failures and misconduct alone, having sidelined the reformists and clamped down on all dissent.
The opposition groups and protesters within the country are under constant surveillance and repression by the regime, limiting their ability to coordinate and collaborate effectively. While the mass protests and economic woes may not lead to the regime's collapse in the short term, the frequency and focus of unrest are increasing across different sectors over time.
The potential event of such magnitude will undoubtedly significantly impact Persian-language media and social networks abroad, which play an essential role within Iran. In light of this, the regime, which accuses the West and Israel of instigating the protests, is making concerted efforts to disrupt broadcasts, influence their content, and remove "problematic" material from social media.
While the precise event that could ignite a broader protest and seriously destabilize the regime remains unpredictable, the cumulative effect of ongoing demonstrations and unrest stemming from economic distress and human rights abuses may accelerate such an event.