In a controversial move, Iran's morality police have decided to reinstate street patrols aimed at enforcing the dress code that mandates women to wear headscarves and loose clothing. The decision comes after a 10-month suspension, which followed widespread protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody for allegedly wearing an "improper" hijab.
During the hiatus, authorities attempted alternative measures to uphold the dress code, but their efforts were met with derision on social media and open defiance on the streets. In response to these developments, many women and girls burned or waved their headscarves during anti-establishment demonstrations, and some even chose to forgo wearing headscarves in public altogether.
The dress code, rooted in Iranian law based on Sharia principles, obliges women to cover their hair with a hijab and wear loose-fitting garments to conceal their figures. The Guidance Patrols, commonly known as the morality police, have been entrusted with enforcing these regulations since 2006.
Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, was detained by the force in Tehran on 13 September. She died three days later in hospital. There were reports that officers beat her head with a baton and banged her head against one of their vehicles while taking her to a "re-education centre". However, authorities blamed her death on an underlying health condition - something her family denied.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more have been detained in a violent crackdown by security forces, which have portrayed the protests as foreign-instigated "riots". Seven protesters have also been executed following what a UN expert has called "sham trials marred by torture allegations".
As well as demonstrating on the streets, videos and photos posted on social media suggested that an increasing number of women and girls were not covering their hair in public. While the patrols were suspended, authorities attempted to identify violators through surveillance cameras and acted against businesses disregarding the dress code.
Now, the morality police have resumed their patrols across the nation, seeking to enforce compliance with the dress code. A police spokesman has warned that legal action will be taken against those who defy their orders.
The decision has garnered criticism from various quarters within Iranian society. Reformist voices caution that this move may lead to chaos, while others point to a widening gap between the people and the state. On social media, condemnation abounds, including the arrest of actor Mohammad Sadeqi for advocating women's self-defence against the morality police. His arrest, carried out by plainclothes security forces, was partially streamed online, and he is now facing charges of instigating violence through unconventional online comments.