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Source: Washington Post

Jul 17, 2023

Iran’s morality police resume hijab patrols after reprieve during protests

By Leo Sands

Iran’s so-called morality police are resuming their public patrols to enforce the country’s strict Islamic dress code, authorities said, signaling an escalation in the regime’s crackdown against women who refuse to wear the mandatory headscarf, or hijab, in public

Tehran’s move marks the end to an apparent reprieve in the morality police’s public patrols, which seemingly slowed in the wake of mass protests after the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman in the force’s custody last September.

Officers detained Mahsa Amini over an alleged dress code violation and she died in their custody, with activists claiming she was beaten. The protests sparked by Amini’s death gripped Iran for months as they spiraled into a wider show of discontent against the Islamic republic’s conservative rulers.

The morality police, or Guidance Patrol, will resume patrols enforcing Iran’s strict dress code by car and foot starting Monday, said Saeid Montazer-al-Mahdi, spokesman for Iran’s Law Enforcement Command, Iran’s state-affiliated Fars news agency reported Sunday.

He said officers would issue warnings to those who “insist on breaking social norms and wear clothes that are out of the norm.” If the individual continues to disobey the warning, Montazer-al-Mahdi said police units would “confront them legally,” although he did not specify what that would involve.

Videos show evidence of escalating crackdown on Iranian protests

In the wake of Amini’s death, many women stopped wearing their hijab and some even burned them at rallies.

Hundreds of people were estimated to be killed and more than 20,000 arrested as part of the government’s heavy-handed response to the protests. However, the exact number of people detained, as well as their fates, are unknown due to heavy censorship and limitations on reporting in Iran.

As the government moved to quash the unrest, the morality police also appeared to withdraw from their public patrols. In December, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri even suggested that the force had been suspended, fueling speculation over its future.

Iran steps up enforcement of mandatory hijab for women

In the following months, Iranian authorities said they were ramping up their enforcement of the strict code, however. In April, Iran’s police chief announced a plan to install surveillance cameras to identify women without headscarves. The same month, the country’s deputy attorney general warned that prosecutors would charge those who encourage women to take off their veil.

Sunday’s decision to resume the morality police’s patrols, on top of April’s announcements, appears to be part of a wider effort by Iranian officials to reinstate their authority after the unrest, according to Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the London-based think tank Chatham House.

“There was a debate inside the political establishment as to how best to respond to the protest and the debate vacillated between making concessions on the one hand or doubling down to reinforce their authority,” Vakil said in a telephone interview Monday. “The morality police coming back is a clear indication that the starker approach has won out.”

Vakil said it was too early to determine how much power authorities will grant the morality police in enforcing Iran’s strict dress codes. In the wake of Amini’s killing, the police’s enforcement of conservative dress codes had relaxed, she said. “That’s not just in the liberal pockets of north Tehran, but more broadly in different urban spaces.” she added.

In announcing Sunday’s decision, police spokesman Montazer-al-Mahdi praised those who abided by the dress code, thanking women and girls “who help the psychological peace of the society by obeying social norms and dress codes.”

Iranian authorities have required by law all women to wear a headscarf in public since 1983, four years after the revolution that ushered clerics to power, although enforcement of violations by the Guidance Patrol has ebbed and flowed since it was established in the 1990s.

Last year, the United States, the European Union and Britain introduced sanctions against the force following Amini’s death — for which the U.S. Treasury Department said it held the morality police “responsible.”

Miriam Berger contributed to this report.

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