In what appears to be a concession to the widespread protests in the wake of the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who was being held by the morality police for supposedly violating Islamic dress rules, Iran has abolished that branch of public enforcement, according to an announcement by the attorney general carried on state media.
The decision, reported by state news outlets late Saturday night, appeared to be a major victory for feminists who have sought for years to dismantle the force and for the protest movement ignited by the death of the young woman, Mahsa Amini, 22, in September. The unrest has amounted to one of the biggest challenges in decades to Iran’s system of authoritarian clerical rule and the decision to scrap the morality police was the government’s first major concession to the protesters.
The morality police “was abolished by the same authorities who installed it,” the statement by Attorney General Mohammad Javad Montazeri said, according to state media reports. But he went on to suggest that the judiciary would still enforce restrictions on “social behavior.” He also indicated that the authorities were reviewing the head scarf regulations.
What is still unclear is what impact these changes will have on enforcement of the dress code going forward or whether the authorities are planning to relax the hijab law, which remains in place. The primary role of the morality police was to enforce the laws related to Iran’s conservative Islamic dress code, imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and recently invigorated by the country’s new ultraconservative president. The dress code for women became an ideological pillar of the ruling clerical establishment, central to its identity, but also the focal point for protests and discontent.
The restrictions require women to cover their bodies in long, loose clothing and their hair with a head scarf or hijab. Despite mass protests, long black robes and chadors, a black head-covering that reaches down the chest, became the norm for women.
When Ms. Amini died in custody after being arrested by the morality police on a Tehran street, the nationwide protests that followed focused initially on the Islamic dress laws.
The protests, now in their third month, have been led by women and young people demanding an end to clerical rule and greater social freedom, tapping into years of pent-up anger. Protesters chanted “woman, life, freedom,” tore off their hijabs, burned them in street bonfires and cut their hair in symbolic acts of defiance.