‘We continue our revolution’: Iran protesters dismiss claims that morality police were ‘disbanded’

Women in Iran protest after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police.
Women in Iran protest after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police. © Twitter / @1500tasvir

Iranian anti-regime protests that erupted in September after the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the “morality police” have continued despite widely reported remarks by an official suggesting that the controversial security unit has been disbanded. Our Observers in Iran say that the current unrest goes far beyond the morality police and strict Islamic dress code laws, underlining the fact that no rules have changed.

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Iran's Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted saying that Iran’s morality police "have been disbanded by the same authorities who installed them", at a religious conference on December 3, local media reported. But many argue that his remarks were taken out of context or overblown.

Indeed, Montazeri added that the Iranian judiciary would continue to “monitor behavioural actions at the community level”. There was no confirmation regarding the morality police from Iran’s interior ministry, which has overseen the morality police since the force was created in 2006.

There were calls on social media for a general strike lasting three days across Iran. Shops across the country closed on Monday, December 5.

A video shared on Telegram on December 5, 2022 shows shops in a Tehran market closed in apparent observance of a nationwide general strike.

The protests in Iran exploded on September 16 after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police. She had been arrested for allegedly breaking the mandatory dress code for women. Women in Iran have been required to cover their hair in public and wear loose-fitting conservative clothing since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The regulation was formalised into law in 1983.

This wave of unrest has not let up despite Montazeri’s comments. 

A video shared on Telegram on December 3, 2022 shows protests in Tehran.

Various police units have been charged with enforcing moral guidelines since the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The latest iteration, known as the Guidance Patrol (Gasht-e Ershad) was established in 2006.

‘The law has not changed. They have only changed who will apply it’

Nastaran (not her real name), 23, is a university student in Tehran.

If – and I repeat, if – they have disbanded the Gasht-e Ershad, the law has not changed. They have only changed who will apply it. The adherence to the dress code that Islamic fanatics want is in Sharia law. According to Article 141 of the “Islamic Penal Code”, women must wear the Islamic hijab in public spaces, otherwise, they can be sentenced to between 10 days and two months in prison.

We shouldn’t forget that the morality police was established in 2006. From 1979 to 2006, the Basij [Editor’s note: the paramilitary arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and every other police officer in the country were responsible for enforcing these barbaric laws against the people, especially against women.

What [Montazeri] says makes no sense, and I don’t know why the Western media are so excited about it – even more than we are.  Besides, what we want is much bigger than just not wearing a headscarf on the street, as it was clear in our slogans from day one: “Hey hey, ho ho, the mullahs got to go.” The Islamic Republic has to go and nothing less. I will not give up, I will participate in every single protest and strike in Tehran just like I am doing today. I will not wear a headscarf anymore, no matter what.

A video shared on Telegram on December 5, 2022 shows shops in Sanandaj, Iran closed in observance of a nationwide general strike.

‘Our slogan is “Woman, Life, Freedom”. Has anything changed to meet our demands?’

Agrin (not her real name), 23, is a student in Shiraz from the Kurdish region of Iran.

The morality police were never the main issue for us, because even if they have really shut them down – which they have not – we will not end our “revolution”. Our revolution started with the killing of Mahsa Amini by the morality police, yes. But it was never a protest against the morality police; it was a revolution against the whole structure of the Islamic Republic. 

We do not even have morality police in my city [in Kurdistan province], like in most cities in Iran.  The morality police exist only in big cities like Tehran, Shiraz or Isfahan. So why did people in towns and suburbs join the revolution from the beginning? Because the demands were the same in every single city and town, be it in the Kurdish cities or in Tehran, Tabriz or Baluchistan province: the end of the Islamic Republic.

Videos shared on Twitter on December 5, 2022 show shops closed in Shiraz.

Our slogan is “Woman, Life, Freedom”. Has anything changed to meet the demands in this slogan? Have they changed the anti-women laws? No. Have they improved our lives? Or have they taken any action in this direction? Do we have a normal life like people in Europe, for example? No. Have they given us our freedom? Can I go to the beach in a bikini? Can I travel without the permission of my male guardian? Can I be a judge? Can I be an atheist? Can I be a lesbian without being punished? No, I cannot. So nothing has changed. The Islamic Republic is not able to respond to our demands. We continue our revolution until the day when the answer to all these questions and many others is “yes” – and a clear and strong yes.

This wave of protests constitutes one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s regime since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Activists estimate that at least 448 people have been killed in the protests, including 51 children. Students and young people have been at the heart of the protests, which have been harshly repressed by security forces.