After nearly a year of sporadic anti-regime protests across Iran, inspired by the murder of Iranian Kurdish 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022 at the hands of the infamous morality police, the Islamic Republic of Iran has announced a new crackdown by the morality police against violations of the mandatory hijab laws. Enforcement, according to the regime, has been lax due to ongoing protests.
The news of a crackdown by the morality police came just days after a video went viral of a young girl in Tehran screaming “I won’t go with you! Help! Help!” as a member of the morality police attempted to physically drag her into a van to detain her for violations of the mandatory hijab law in Iran. Sarina*, a 25-year-old from Shiraz, was arrested recently for violations of the hijab law along with a friend, despite the fact there were no signs of the morality police patrolling.
“We were walking outside when a white van stopped and they attacked us, 3 women, and 3 men. They forcefully took us, and one of the men filmed us while arresting us. When we arrived at the security police, there were other girls like us who had been arrested for ‘morality’ offenses. We thought we were safe but we were wrong… We were then interrogated and asked many questions about the protests.”
Sarina said that “the women were obviously morality police and we assume the men were related to intelligence services,” and added that unlike previously, morality police officers took measures to hide their faces and conceal their actual identities.
During her arrest, she and her friend were detained for many hours and the regime officials demanded money which the girls didn’t have “for bail.” She also noted that they repeatedly called them misogynist insults and threatened to imprison them, even threatening the family of Sarina to pay for her release. “After several more hours they let us go, however, we have to go to court and we have a case,” she said.
Sarina explained that her arrest demonstrated not only are the morality police continuing their human rights violations, but that the consequences may be even worse for women from now on as it seems violations of the mandatory hijab law are now being treated as criminal offenses..
“We noticed that the morality police is back but in a different form, they are now part of other units which deal with general crime, so unlike the morality police before, now women are being handled as criminals,” Sarina explained, adding that, “it’s now much more dangerous since the units dealing with this crime are those who deal with all sort of crimes and ‘security’ issues.”
In terms of Sarina’s pending sentence, she told Ynetnews that “the punishment is unclear yet… each case is different based on what the judge declares as the punishment. Most cases are jail up to 6 months, which you can usually pay your way out of. Some reported lashes, one reported being punished by washing deceased bodies in a cemetery for a month… we are waiting to see what our punishment will be.”
For years, the morality police have arrested and detained women and girls for violations of the Iranian mullahs' strict interpretation of Islamic law that constitutes gender apartheid in the eyes of many activists. Iranians who are arrested by the morality police have reported horrific experiences including but not limited to torture, sexual abuse and rape, and beatings.
Throughout the protests, the regime has been clear that there is not and has not been any change in the laws regarding hijab, but the people of Iran are increasingly defying the regime in the streets of Iran. In response, Iranian police spokesman General Saeed Montazerolmahdi said the morality police will resume their duties “notifying and then detaining women not wearing hijab in public.”
However, as Sarina alluded to, the regime has been arresting and detaining women throughout the past 10 months by other security officials carrying out the work of the morality police. In one example, Iranian actress Azadeh Samadi was punished for going out without a hat in place of a hijab, with a six-month ban from social media. She was also ordered by a court to seek “psychological treatment” for “antisocial personality disorder” due to the incident.
The new crackdown has already attracted fierce criticism from Iranians inside and outside of Iran. Whereas before women would receive warnings and have to pledge not to violate hijab laws to be released, now they can be criminally charged with violations of “public modesty” that involve oppressive and somewhat arbitrary punishments including lengthy prison sentences, especially for multiple violations.
“Now they are defining going out without a hijab as part of this law..this is much more dangerous because they can literally put you in any manner of problems with a very generally defined crime and only the judge can decide what is the ‘punishment’ for such a crime,” says Sarina.
Sarina explains that what’s different than before is that “the morality police were always located in specific places in the cities…but now it is different because they are actively patrolling the streets…Now my major anxiety these days is ‘what if I get arrested again?’” Certainly, thousands of Iranian women are now facing the same fears living under the oppressive Islamic Republic.
“This new way of targeting women will eventually cause women to fear and stop going out without hijab,” Serina fears, but urges the West to pay attention to the plight of Iranian women.
“They are constantly breaking their own law system to punish women. From what I’ve learned, the Islamic Republic actually cares about its reputation internationally and exposing their lies is very important.”
*Interviewee’s name has been changed to protect her identity due to a pending trial
First published: 21:22, 07.16.23