While the Iranian attorney general on Saturday told the press that Iran has disbanded its “morality police,” Sunday saw a different message from a regime-operated TV channel.

Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri’s statement at a Saturday press conference seemingly meant to placate the growing protests in Iran and abroad against the ayatollah regime’s oppressive rule. 

“The morality police had nothing to do with the judiciary and have been shut down from where they were set up,” Montazeri reportedly said. 

However, he appeared to suggest that the fundamentalist regime would continue to police its citizens’ behaviors according to its own principles of morality: “Of course, the judiciary continues to monitor behavioral actions.”

Despite the attorney general’s announcement, the next day Iran’s Al-Alam state TV channel denied that the guidance patrols had been shut down, saying, “No official in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of the morality police.”

“Some foreign media have tried to characterize the attorney general’s statement as the Islamic Republic’s withdrawal from its hijab [laws] and influenced by the recent riots,” al-Alam said. 

The ayatollah regime’s forces have killed more than 400 civilian protesters, including 51 children and 27 women, since the anti-regime protests began in September in response to a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman being beaten to death in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

Mahsa Amini was arrested and beaten for failing to correctly wear a hijab, an Islamic head covering, per the regime’s strict dress code for women. 

While it is likely that Iran feels growing pressure to disband the “guidance patrols,” commonly called “morality police,” it is unclear what the attorney general’s statement means in practice, and with the “P.S.” of the Al-Alam channel, it is possible that the regime’s morality policing will continue or return in another form. 

Kamran Matin, a senior lecturer of international relations at the University of Sussex in the U.K., urged the international community to take the attorney general’s statement about the disbanding of the morality police with a grain of salt. 

Matin told the German DW news agency that Iran’s morality police does not constitute a part of the country’s judicial system but, instead, is operated by a separate law enforcement institution. 

“Such an announcement should really be announced by that institution and that hasn’t happened yet,” he said.

Iran’s morality police is an ayatollah-led authority tasked with enforcing the regime’s strict Islamist dress code. However, critics reject the idea that this authority is genuinely dealing with morality. 

Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, argued that the Islamist regime in Tehran uses the authority as a political tool to harass Iranian citizens. 

“This has nothing to do with morality or with policing,” Ghaemi told Time magazine in November. “These are state security forces who are assigned … to harass and subjugate women and thereby show a constant demonstration of force.” 

Assal Rad, research director at the National Iranian American Council, shared similar sentiments. 

“If [clothing] is too tight, if the body shows too much, if your sleeves are up, if your jeans are torn …  They will take you to a detention center … until someone comes and brings you the [appropriate clothes],” Rad said.  

Rad stressed that it’s no a coincidence the current anti-regime protests are led by the young generation. 

“[The movement] is about young people refusing to live under the Islamic Republic and all of its institutions, because they don’t see a future anymore. The morality police is just one symbol of it.” 

The ayatollahs ousted the former secular American-backed Shah government in 1979, effectively turning Iran into a fundamentalist Islamist theocracy. Previous protests against the ayatollah regime were ruthlessly crushed and it is unclear whether the current protests will be more successful. 

What is beyond dispute is that millions of Iranians aged 43 and under do not know any reality in Iran other than a society ruled by fundamentalist theocrats. However, many young, educated Iranians are connected with the outside world through social media or their studies abroad, and are no longer willing to live under the regime’s oppressive rule. 

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