Iran’s Morality Police Return With a Vengeance
Iranian police have announced the reestablishment of patrols to detain non-hijab wearing women. But did they ever really go away?
On September 13, 2022, Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman visiting Tehran last year, was arrested by the Guidance Patrol, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s morality police unit. The patrol had said she was not wearing her hijab correctly and that she was wearing tight pants while in the car with her brother. She was beaten by the morality officers while under detainment, leading to her collapse hours later while in police custody.
Fractures to her skull had caused a brain hemorrhage, and she arrived at the hospital brain-dead and bleeding from her ears. On September 16, three days later, she died from her injuries.
The photographs from the hospital of her grieving family galvanized protests that rocked the country for months. Government attempts to de-escalate and deflect blame, variously claiming that Amini had had brain issues before (which her father denied), and that there was no video of the arrest because the police’s body cams had been off, failed.
The statues of the Islamic Republic’s founders and theorists were burned and torn down, municipality buildings were overrun, even the former Supreme Leader Khomeini’s home was set on fire. Police responded to the demonstrators with violent force. Over the course of several months, 530 protesters were killed, including 71 children, most of them high school students. In turn, 70 members of government forces, some from the police, others from the paramilitary militia known as the Basij, were killed by protesters.
The waves of the movement were eventually rolled back, with almost 20,000 arrests, nearly 800 convictions, and multiple executions in widely-criticized trials as the powerful instruments of the system’s massive crackdown. But the foundations of the Islamic Republic had absolutely been shaken, and in ways that few if any protest movements in the country’s modern era had done before.
That severe tremor had forced the Islamist government to enter somewhat novel territory, territory it seemed unfamiliar and moreover uncomfortable traversing.
On July 16, 2023, 10 months to the day after Mahsa Amini died from her injuries at the hands of the Guidance Patrol, a spokesman for the Iranian police, Saeed Montazer Ol-Mahdi, announced that car and foot patrols would be returning to the streets of Iran to “strengthen the foundation of the family” and to bring those who “insist on breaking norms” into the hands of the judiciary.
The Islamic Republic had last year put something of a quiet moratorium on arrests for breaking the government’s public moral codes, spurred by an unspoken but obvious want to not cause another Mahsa Amini-like death while the country was still in the throes of mass protest. But the demonstrations had lost their momentum, cut down by the intense crackdown, and faltered in the face of overly optimistic predictions that the Islamic Republic would fall that very year.
Feeling comfortable returning to how things were before was one thing. There also seemed to be an undercurrent of frustration and furthermore, revenge, that drove this return to how things were before. A constant, incessant, and biting need to reclaim the narrative of whose side the Iranian people were really on.
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