The Iranian authorities made vague and contradictory statements about lifting the so-called “morality police”. However, the international community should not be misled by this because continued violence against women and girls stems from laws that require the wearing of the veil, and there is continued impunity for those who enforce those laws by force.
Iran’s Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said in a press conference on December 3, 2022: “The ‘morality police’ (Qesht Ershad) has nothing to do with the judiciary and has been dissolved by [instantie] which was established in the past. Then he classified his statement, adding that “the judiciary will continue to control people’s behavior.” This indicates women continue to be monitored under mandatory veiling laws. State media reported the next day that “no official body in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of the Literature Division”.
“The Attorney General’s statement was deliberately vague and failed to mention the legal and political structures that maintain the obligation of women and girls to wear the veil,” said Heba Morayef of Amnesty International. To say that the “moral police” have nothing to do with the judiciary is to distort the reality in which women and girls have been punished for decades under discriminatory veiling laws. Despite the outcry in Iran and around the world over these extreme forms of gender discrimination and violence, the Iranian authorities blame each other to evade accountability.”
Mandatory hijab prescribed by law
The international community and the media must not allow the Iranian authorities to deceive them. The obligation to wear the veil is enshrined in Iran’s penal code and other laws and regulations that allow security and administrative authorities to subject women to arbitrary arrest and detention. They can also deny them access to public institutions, including hospitals, schools, government offices, and airports, if they don’t cover their hair. Until all of these laws and regulations are repealed, the same violence that led to Gina Mahsa Amini’s arrest and death in custody will continue against millions of other women and girls.
The “sex police” in Iran is a sub-section of the police, and it falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior. Despite the public prosecutor’s statement of trying to distance the judiciary from the “morality police”, according to Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure, police officers are considered “judicial officers” (zabetan-e qazai) who detain people under the supervision of the public prosecutor’s office. They are arrested and interrogated.
The guards also watch the women
The “sex police” police the entire female population, but the surveillance of women’s bodies is not limited to the state. Discriminatory and degrading laws regarding the forced wearing of headscarves allow not only state employees but also guards, who are non-state actors, to harass or assault women and girls in public on a daily basis.
Hijab laws violate a wide range of rights, including the right to equality, privacy, and freedom of expression and belief. They also degrade women and girls and rob them of their dignity, bodily autonomy and self-respect.
According to Article 638 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, any act deemed “offensive” to public morals is punishable by imprisonment from 10 days to two months or 74 lashes. An explanatory note to the article states that women who appear in public without a headscarf will be punished with imprisonment from 10 days to two months or a fine. The law applies to girls as young as 9, which is the minimum age of criminal responsibility for girls in Iran. In practice, the authorities have made the veil compulsory for girls from the age of seven when they enter primary school.
It is important to note that the protesters in Iran are not only calling for the dismantling of the ‘moral police’, but also for a transition to a new political and legal system that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms. The popular uprising taking place across Iran reflects national outrage over decades of oppression and many deaths due to the desire for freedom, democracy and human rights.