Iran is to abolish its morality police that monitors women’s clothing, following long-running protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old who had been arrested for allegedly failing to observe the Islamic dress code.
While Iran’s prosecutor-general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, did not name the state body, the country’s newswires said on Sunday he had confirmed at the weekend that “the same [organisation] which set up Guidance Patrol, has now shut it down”.
Speaking in the holy city of Qom, Montazeri said that while the judiciary kept an eye on “public behaviour”, it would not take a leading role in implementing the hijab law.
He said cultural activities had been “prioritised over other kinds of activities”, clearly distancing himself from the prosecution of women in connection with the Islamic dress code.
Street demonstrations erupted in September after the Guidance Patrol, a branch of the morality police, stopped Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, in the capital Tehran for allegedly failing to properly observe the hijab.
Her death in police custody triggered protests in towns and cities across Iran that spiralled into the worst social unrest in years and led to calls for the theocratic state to be overthrown and replaced with a secular government.
While the legal obligation to wear the hijab — ratified after the 1979 Islamic revolution — remains in place, an increasing number of women have appeared on streets, in restaurants and in universities in recent months without covering their hair and have not faced censure from the security forces.
In the wake of Amini’s death many female protesters burnt their head scarves in the streets or cut their hair in a show of solidarity.
One 60-year-old man called Nima commented on returning to the country after two months abroad that Iran felt like “a different country”, with women passing through passport checks without the hijab. “It already looks normal for all sides,” he said, marvelling at the development.
Women have reported visiting state organisations without wearing the hijab, although state employees still have to adhere to the dress code.
Others remain more cautious amid lingering fears of prosecution or because they feel uncomfortable. “It feels like being naked,” said one woman. “I feel guilty that so many died for us to enjoy not wearing scarves,” said another. “We didn’t want this freedom at such a huge cost.”
The remarks by the prosecutor-general come after protests in some big cities such as Tehran have subsided. But they have continued in the south-east province of Sistan-Baluchestan and in Kurdistan in the north-west, according to video footage and reports on social media.
Many Iranians, including journalists, activists and students, still face trial for their involvement in the anti-regime protests. At least six people have been sentenced to death in preliminary courts, according to reports in local media, although the sentences are subject to appeal.
Meanwhile, the National Security Council, the body responsible for suppressing the protests has for the first time confirmed that about 200 people, including security forces, have been killed in the unrest since September. Amnesty International has put the number of protesters who lost their lives at 305 including 41 children.