PARIS/DUBAI: Iranian activists and Western nations on Monday dismissed a claim that the protest-hit Islamic republic is disbanding its notorious morality police, insisting there was no change to women’s rights.
There were also calls on social media for a three-day strike in Iran, culminating on Wednesday on the annual Student Day, nearly three months into a nationwide wave of unrest sparked by the death in custody of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini.
Morality police officers had arrested Amini, 22, in Tehran for allegedly flouting Iran’s strict dress code demanding women wear modest clothing and the hijab headscarf.
“Nothing we have seen suggests Iran’s leadership is improving its treatment of women and girls or ceasing the violence it inflicts on peaceful protesters,” the US State Department said.
Shops shut after strike call, judiciary blames ‘rioters’
Germany’s foreign ministry said Iranian protesters “want to live freely and in self-determination”, and disbanding the morality police, “if it is implemented, won’t change that”.
Amini’s death on Sept 16 triggered women-led protests that have spiralled into the biggest challenge to the regime since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Hundreds of Iranians, including some members of the security forces, have been killed.
In a surprise move over the weekend, Iran’s Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying that the morality police units — known formally as Gasht-e Ershad (“Guidance Patrol”) — had been closed down.
But campaigners were sceptical about his comments, which appeared to be an impromptu response to a question at a conference rather than a clearly signposted announcement by the interior ministry.
“Unless they remove all legal restrictions on women’s dress and the laws controlling citizens’ private lives, this is just a PR move,” Roya Boroumand, co-founder of the US-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre rights group, said.
Abolishing the force, activists argued, would mark no change to Iran’s headscarf policy — a key ideological pillar for its clerical leadership — but rather a switch in tactics on enforcing it. And scrapping the units would be “probably too little too late” for the protesters who now demand outright regime change, Boroumand said.
Nationwide general strike
Iranian shops shut their doors in several cities on Monday, following calls for a three-day nationwide general strike from protesters seeking the fall of clerical rulers, with the head of the judiciary blaming “rioters” for threatening shopkeepers.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Monday that an amusement park at a Tehran shopping centre was closed by the judiciary because its operators were not wearing the hijab properly.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022