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Iran's morality police resume headscarf patrols in cities

July 17, 2023

Many women in Iran stopped covering their heads after the protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini. But police now say morality patrols are back.

A woman walks down a street in Tehran in the evening with her hair loose
Many women in Iran demonstratively ignored the headscarf requirement as a sign of silent protestImage: Arne Immanuel Bänsch/dpa/picture alliance

Iranian police announced they were resuming patrols to enforce a strict dress code that requires women to cover their hair in public. In Tehran, male and female morality police officers could be seen patrolling the streets in marked vans on Sunday.

"The police will launch car and foot patrols to warn, take legal measures, and refer to the judiciary those who disobey police orders and disregard consequences of dressing against the norms," said police spokesman Saeed Montazer Almehdi, according to the official news agency IRNA.

The report comes exactly ten months after the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who was arrested for violating the Islamic dress code and later died in police custody.

Her death sparked nationwide protests that were brutally put down. More than 500 demonstrators were killed and nearly 20,000 arrested in the violent crackdown.

Sign of silent protest

But even after the protest movement was suppressed, many women demonstratively ignored the headscarf requirement as a sign of silent protest.

The morality police have largely disappeared from the streets of Iran's cities, and there were even reports that the morality police were disbanded. However, authorities have insisted that dress code has not changed.

They took other measures to enforce the rules, including closing businesses where employees did not obey the rules and installing cameras in public places to track down violators.

Heritage of Islamic Revolution

Iran's religious rulers have vehemently defended the dress code and see the hijab as a mainstay of the Islamic revolution that brought them to power.

The dress code has been in force in Iran since 1979. Violators face fines or prison terms of up to two months.

However, with many Iranians demanding changes, authorities in May proposed a milder "Support for the Culture of Hijab and Chastity" bill. It demands higher fines for "any person who removes their veil in public places or on the internet," but refrains from the threat of imprisonment.

dh/dj (AP, AFP, dpa)