Iran introduces 2,000 new morality police units in response to women’s hijab protests

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By Ahmed Vahdat
Source: The Telegraph
Young Iranian women in Tehran CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Iran has introduced 2,000 new morality police units in reaction to what officials call an “increasing defiance” of the compulsory wearing of hijabs.

The units, called “resistance groups for verbal and practical response to bad-hijabi women”, were launched recently in the northern province of Gilan as part of a pilot scheme.

They are each made up of six women who have the power to arrest and detain those they deem to be flouting the country’s strict veiling laws.

The move comes amid a growing backlash by women in the Islamic Republic, hundreds of whom have been arrested for taking off their head coverings in public in protest at the law.

At a glance | Iran’s strict Islamic laws

Of local laws and customs, the Foreign Office says:

Iran is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is strictly enforced. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. It is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan.

Islamic codes of behaviour and dress are strictly enforced. In any public place women must cover their heads with a headscarf, wear trousers (or a floor length skirt), and a long-sleeved tunic or coat that reaches to mid-thigh or knee. Men should wear long trousers and long-sleeve shirts.

There are additional dress requirements at certain religious sites. Women may be asked to put on a chador (a garment that covers the whole body except the face) before entering.

Relationships between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are illegal, although few Westerners have been prosecuted. If a Muslim woman is found in a relationship with a non-Muslim man, she may be sentenced to be whipped.

Women should take extra care, particularly when travelling alone or with friends of the opposite sex. If you’re a woman travelling in Iran you should respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas. 

Unmarried partners and friends of the opposite sex travelling together should be discreet at all times in public. Iranian hotel managers could insist on seeing a marriage certificate before allowing any couple to share a double hotel room.

Homosexual behaviour, adultery and sex outside of marriage are illegal under Iranian law and can carry the death penalty. 

Women’s magazines and DVDs or videos depicting sexual relations are forbidden. There are occasional clampdowns. Satellite dishes and many Western CDs and films remain illegal.

The import, sale, manufacture and consumption of alcohol in Iran is strictly forbidden on religious grounds, with exceptions only for certain recognised Iranian religious minorities (not foreigners). Penalties can be severe.

A campaign by rights activists called “White Wednesday” encouraging women to wear white and discard their hijabs has also gained support, much to the consternation of conservative clerics.

While Iran has had various forms of “morality police” since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the decision to increase their numbers as well as introduce all-female brigades, is a sign that authorities are adopting a tougher approach.

Mohammad Abdulahpour, the commander of Gilan province’s Revolutionary Guards unit, has said that the survival of the Islamic revolution depends on the full implementation of Islamic traditions and that “the issue of hijab is not a simple matter, but rather a serious political and security issue for our country.”

“The enemy is heavily investing in changing our nation’s culture to adopt a Western lifestyle,” Mr Abdulahpour told local Tasnim news agency.

Cleric Rasoul Falahati, representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in the province, condemned women who defy the hijab as an insult to the Islamic Republic.

“We do not wish to show a violent image of our religion, but models and promoters of vile fashions not only defy the hijab,” he said. “But are nowadays appearing almost naked on our streets.”

Iran’s police have also recently installed special cameras on the country’s highways to take photos of those female drivers who remove their hijab once they leave the town centres.

Women’s rights defenders across the country have joined an unprecedented protest movement against veiling laws in Iran.

Women began taking to the streets last year, silently waving their headscarves on the ends of sticks. In response, they suffered a backlash from the authorities, facing violent assault, arrest and torture, and some were jailed after what human rights groups called unfair trials.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, prominent human rights lawyer, was sentenced last May to seven years in prison after defending the protesters.

Both President Hassan Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei support a softer attitude toward women who do not properly follow the dress code, although hardliners who are opposed to any such easing still dominate Iran’s security forces and the judiciary.

A recent study by Iran’s parliament showed that up to 70 per cent of the female population would like to see the relaxing of laws on the mandatory wearing of headscarves, while 30 per cent accepted it as part of the national culture.

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