On Sunday, a New York Times headline declared that Iran had “abolished” its morality police, apparently conceding to protesters’ months-long demands.
The Times cited Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Javad Montazeri as saying during a meeting Saturday, that the morality police “was abolished by the same authorities who installed it.”
The story was picked up by several Western media outlets. However, the Iranian government has not confirmed the move, Iran’s state media disputed the report, and several local journalists treated the coverage with skepticism.
- Iran’s government and national police force have neither confirmed nor denied reports of the morality police being disbanded.
- Here’s what the attorney general actually said, according to BBC journalist Soroush Negahdari: “The Morality Police has nothing to do with the Judiciary. It has been ‘shut down’ by the same entity which founded it in the past … Of course, the Judiciary continues to monitor people’s public behavior. Hijab is one of the main concerns of the judiciary.”
- Montazeri himself reportedly rejected the characterization later, saying that official authorities in Iran have not confirmed abolishing the morality police.
- Iran’s state television disputed the report, saying the morality police has not been disbanded.
- A state-run Arabic TV channel Al-Alam said: “The most that can be understood from Mohammed Jafar Montazeri’s remarks is that the morality police’s patrols have not been connected to the judiciary since their inception.”
- Several Tehran watchers and journalists noted that the judiciary has no authority over the morality police and that Western media may have misconstrued Montazeri’s “ambiguous” and “vague” phrasing.
- Some reporters noted that while morality police patrols appear to be inactive since protests began, it did not mean that the force had been abolished.
- A group called Lawyers of Free Iran urged the public to be aware of
“the regime’s propaganda.”
The issue of Iran’s morality police has been a sticking point during the country’s ongoing protests following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died after being detained by police for a hijab-related infraction. The morality police enforce Iranian adherence to Sharia law, and arrest or detain those who breach it.
In the months since Amini’s death, Iranians have been rising up against their government’s religious laws. Iran has cracked down forcefully on the protesters, and at least 15,000 demonstrators have been arrested.
Iranian activists and protesters on Sunday accused the Western media of falling prey to disinformation and propaganda, calling it a “tactic” to repress the ongoing uprising.
Some said that the goal of the protests was not merely to get rid of the morality police and that its abolishment would not stop people from protesting.
“Just because the government has decided to dismantle morality police it doesn’t mean the protests are ending,” an Iranian woman told the BBC World Service’s Newshour programme.
Another unidentified Iranian woman told the BBC World Service’s Newshour:
We, the protesters, don’t care about no hijab no more. We’ve been going out without it for the past 70 days. A revolution is what we have. Hijab was the start of it and we don’t want anything, anything less, but death for the dictator and a regime change.