Iranian women debunk Western media reports of disbanding of ‘morality police’ as propaganda

Scores of Iranian women deemed the news of morality police suspension as “Western media hogwash” and an attempt by Iranian authorities to quash the ongoing protests

All across the three-month long protests, Iranian women have cut their hair as a sign of solidarity with Mahsa Amini
All across the three-month long protests, Iranian women have cut their hair as a sign of solidarity with Mahsa Amini

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

On Sunday, December 4, the New York Times published an article claiming that Iran’s ‘morality police’, which was responsible for the tragic death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini, has been abolished.

The NYT report suggests that months of large-scale protests steered by the women in Iran and the global calls for an end to the Hijab laws has led to the abolishment of the morality police.

Claiming that it has been ended “by the same authorities who installed it”, the NYT article attributes their findings to certain comments made by Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri at a religious conference on Saturday, 3 December and some other “official” sources. Many other international dailies such as the Washington Post, BBC, Time, etc., also carried this news.

However, soon after this report went live, Iranian citizens and activists debunked this claim. They clarified that the “official” statements did not amount to an institutional decision; and that the stringent Hijab laws were still very much effective in Iran.

Scores of Iranian women deemed the news of morality police suspension as “Western media hogwash” and an attempt by Iranian authorities to quash the ongoing protests. They called out the Western media for being so quick to celebrate the alleged “disbanding” of the morality police as “concession” for the death of Mahsa Amini. They countered NYT’s seemingly celebratory article by saying that this move will not create any tangible difference to the draconian Hijab laws in place.

“The morality police have not been disbanded for sure. The morality or hijab police are directed by the Iranian police forces. We haven't seen so many of them on the streets since the protests broke out three months ago and some analysts believe that it is because the police have been so heavily involved in the suppression of the protests," said Iranian journalist Maryam Moqaddam.

“We are not even paying attention to this news in Iran, because it’s not true. The regime is scared because we are not stopping the protests. They have already killed so many women for not wearing the hijab over the years, even before the morality police existed. They arrested dozens of students just this week. So, it will not change anything on the ground,” an Iranian student activist told The Quint.

“I know that they will rename the morality police and will continue repression of women’s rights. The only platform where people are talking about it is Twitter and Western news. We will be protesting for three days and they’re scared of us. That’s why they announced this fake news,” said another Iranian student who did not wish to be named.

“The morality police has not been abolished. They have been temporarily suspended. But even if they abolish them, that’s not what people are demanding. People are asking for freedom and dignity and they’re not going to rest until then,” Iranian journalist Sana Ebrahimi told i24News. 

“It’s disinformation that Islamic Republic of Iran has abolished its morality police. It’s a tactic to stop the uprising. Protesters are not facing guns and bullets to abolish morality police or forced hijab. They want to end Islamic regime,” tweeted Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad with images and video footage of the Iranian police attacking female protestors.

Alinejad added that the women of Iran have been protesting for an “end to the Islamic Republic” and Western media is inaccurately projecting the ground reality – a cut-throat crackdown on the protestors and the draconian hijab law remains.

“This is a lie to deceive protesters and to divide them just before nationwide calls for protests in the next coming days,” tweeted Iranian journalist and talk show host Sima Sabet.

American stand-up comedian Chelsea Hart, who has actively supported the Iranian women’s revolution for the past three months and condemned Western interference, also tweeted: “No, morality police has not been abolished in Iran. This is a fake story cooked up by the regime to make you think everything is over. Western media is publishing propaganda with zero fact-checking. Dozens of people, including children, have now been executed in their silence.”

Iranian freelance journalist Shiva Akhvan Rad, in an interview with author Elena Ferrante, has called this movement the “world’s first feminist revolution”. Citing the arrests of Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi, two prominent Iranian actors who were detained for supporting the movement and taking off their headscarves, Rad emphasised the terrible living conditions that Iranian women live under.

She said that being a woman in Iran was a political act and cited the slogan “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” (woman, life, freedom) to highlight the scale of the protests. 

Back in mid-September, Iran's ‘morality police’ arrested Jina Mahsa Amini in Tehran for wearing what they deemed was 'inappropriate clothing'. They then took her to a police station, where she slipped into a coma. Three days later, on September 16, she died in the hospital.

Amini's death sparked widespread anger, leading to anti-government rallies and protests, which almost three months later continue to erupt across the country.

The morality police in Iran, or the Gasht-e-Ershad, is a de-facto unit responsible for enforcing the Islamic dress-code laws upon women and policing the female population for their adherence to the Hijab law.

The protests following Mahsa Amini’s death have called for a complete eradication of this “regressive” and “authoritarian” system that has been in place for 43 years in the country. The uprising has also led to unrest over long standing issues such as poverty, corruption, censorship and justice.

Meanwhile, Iranian protesters have announced a three-day strike on Sunday along with a rally in Azadi square in Tehran amidst conflicting reports about the morality police’s suspension. The three-day economic strike is in the aims of building pressure on the regime and continuing the momentum that was sparked with Mahsa Amini’s death.

According to Iran-based Human Rights Activists News Agency, 470 protestors, including 64 minors, have been killed and 18,210 protestors have been arrested as of Saturday. 

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