More than 400 people have been killed and more than 15,000 arrested in the crackdown on demonstrations, according to rights groups. Given the heavy censorship and limitations on reporting, the full extent of casualties is difficult to estimate.
The disbandment of the force responsible for enforcing mandatory hijab, even if nominal, would indicate a level of response to the protesters’ demands that has not yet been seen. But experts warned that Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri’s comments, made in response to questions at a press conference, should be taken with some skepticism.
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“The morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary, and it was abolished by those who created it,” Montazeri said during a conspiracy-theory-laden speech Saturday in which he blamed Western countries’ anti-government unrest on Iranian state media. reported. “But the judiciary will of course continue to monitor behavior in society.”
He seemed to be referring to the relative absence of vice squads on the streets since protests against Iran’s ecclesiastical leaders broke out. An app that Iranians initially used to track the roving patrols has been used in recent weeks to track and evade security forces.
But Montazeri’s remarks, which confirmed that the morality police were not within the purview of the judiciary, were not official confirmation of the dissolution, which would require higher-level approval.
Montazeri’s “statement should not be read as definitive,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a London think tank. No formal announcement has been made by top law enforcement officials or administrative leaders. “The Islamic Republic often tests ideas by questioning them,” she said.
Iran’s state broadcaster al-Alam reported on Sunday that Iranian officials had not confirmed the move, accusing foreign media of misrepresenting the attorney general’s comments as a “retreat” despite the protests.
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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei flatly rejected growing calls to abolish the compulsory headscarf for women shortly after the 1979 revolution. In defining scenes from the ongoing uprising, women have publicly shed and burned their hijabs.
With or without morality police on patrol, Vakil said, Iran’s mandatory dress code remains in effect and the state “has many other ways to oppress people” and enforce its rules. “We don’t yet know if dissolution means they’ll be gone or if they move out of law enforcement oversight to another entity and take on a different capacity.”
Initial reactions have been mixed, abroad and among supporters of the protest movement online, with some mocking the move and others celebrating it as an apparent victory.
“They really think shutting down the vice squad will make a difference,” says one user wrote on Twitter. “Don’t they realize that our target is the whole system?”
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“If the regime has now somehow responded to those protests, it could be positive, but we have to see how it works out in practice and what the Iranian people think,” said US Secretary of State Antony. Shine on CBS. News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
The Iranian Escort Patrol was formally established in the 1990s to eradicate and punish any violation of the strict, if sometimes arbitrarily applied, religious rules and dress codes of the ruling clerics of the Islamic Republic. The power of the unit and the state’s enforcement of hijab rules has ebbed and flowed over the years, but this summer Iran’s ultra-conservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, stepped up patrols.
In response, women began holding small-scale protests, taking off their hijab. Amini’s death in September sparked so much outrage, in part because women across Iran had had enough of decades of authorities encroaching on their lives — and the wider gender segregation and state violence that perpetuate the Islamic republic.
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The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police over its crackdown on protesters. In announcing the sanctions, the US Treasury Department said morality police were “responsible” for Amini’s death.
As widespread intimidation and arrest campaigns continue, Iran’s judiciary has begun prosecuting protesters in what human rights groups say are show trials without due process. Dozens of demonstrators, including some minors, risk the death penalty.
Kareem Fahim contributed to this report.