Iran’s new ‘morality’ police are tasked with reporting infractions of the Islamic moral code.
By: Roshni Kapur
Iran’s new ‘morality’ police have an important role to play.
The chief of the Tehran police Gen Hossein Sajedinia recently announced that his department had deployed 7,000 male and female undercover agents for a new plainclothes division. They are instructed to carry out strict interpretations of Islamic morality and report breaches of moral code.
The undercover cops are sent to streets to enforce rules on moral behavior and dress code in public. They regularly patrol Tehran streets and intersections to enforce the strict code of conduct for citizens.
The head of police said the officers do not have arrest powers but they can take pictures of car license plates using their cellphones and send reports of violations to police headquarters that would impose fines. There have been reports that the morality police continue to harass women and youths on the streets of Tehran who they claim are improperly attired or behaved.
The officers are known for targeting women who do not cover up in the full Islamic hijab, wear bright clothes or flash bold makeup. Iranian authorities have been struggling for decades to impose the full Islamic dress code especially the hijab. By law it is mandatory for women to dress modestly from head to toe including covering their hair in public. The hijab enforcement and related rules on dressing and public conduct is a foundational tenet of the Islamic Republic.
Many young women in the affluent suburbs of Tehran get away with the law or push the boundaries by wearing the headscarf in the loosest way possible. The decision to deploy undercover officers is seen as a scourge for modern women especially those who do not wear the hijab and try to push the boundaries of the dress code.
Those with an affinity with Western lifestyles disagree with such moral impositions on their daily life. The move highlights a disconnect between public preferences and the moral code imposed by the state on Iranian society. Many Iranian activists reacted angrily when the news of the deployment of the undercover morality police was first released by the government. The civil society members argued that the resources would be better spent by deploying undercover agents against corrupt officials than impose a moral code of conduct
The announcement by Gen Sajedinia has caught even President Hassan Rouhani off guard. The decision to deploy 7,000 undercover cops is seen partly aimed at applying pressure on Rouhani’s camp. Although Rouhani has criticised the deploying of undercover agents, Iran’s constitution gives him little power over the security forces. Rouhani has pledged his commitment to uphold Iranians’ dignity and freedom though his past attempts to rein in the morals police has not met with much success.
“Our first duty is to respect people’s dignity and personality. God has bestowed dignity to all human beings and this dignity precedes religion,” Rouhani was quoted in an online article on ISNA.
Seen as a moderate leader, Rouhani assumed office in 2013 banking mostly on the votes of young people. He has clashed with his conservative and hardline counterparts repeatedly and has disagreed with the enforcement of strict Islamic rules.
Many young Iranians hoped that his arrival in office would be coupled by an easing of cultural restrictions. However, the conservative and hardline politicians have resisted calls to block any easing of the country’s social rules. Last year, they criticised Rouhani for saying the police should enforce the law rather than Islam.
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