CAIRO (AP) — An Iranian lawmaker said Sunday that Iran’s government is “paying attention to the real demands of the people,” state media reported, a day after a senior official suggested that the country’s morality police, whose behavior helped spark months of protests, was closed down.
The role of moral policing in enforcing massing laws has come under scrutiny since the death of a detainee, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, in custody in mid-September. Amini was detained for allegedly violating the strict dress code of the Islamic Republic. Her death sparked a wave of unrest that escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s clerical rulers.
Iran’s chief prosecutor, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, said Saturday that the morality police “have been shut down,” the semi-official ISNA news agency reported. The agency has not released details, and state media have not reported on the alleged decision.
In a report published by ISNA on Sunday, lawmaker Nezamuddin Mousavi took a less confrontational approach to the protests.
“Both the administration and parliament have insisted that attention to the people’s demands, which are mainly economic, is the best way to achieve stability and counter unrest,” he said after a closed-door meeting with several senior Iranian officials, in including with President Ibrahim Raisi.
Mousavi did not mention the announcement of the closure of the morality police.
The Associated Press could not confirm the current status of the force, which was created in 2005 to arrest people who violate the country’s Islamic dress code.
Since September, Iranian cities have seen a decrease in the number of morality police officers and an increase in the number of women walking in public without headscarves, which is against Iranian law.
Montazeri, the attorney general, did not elaborate on the future of the death squad or whether the shutdown would be nationwide and permanent. However, he added that Iran’s judicial system would “continue to monitor behavior at the community level.”
An ISNA report on Friday quoted Montazeri as saying that the government was reviewing the mandatory hijab law. “We are working quickly on the hijab issue and doing our best to find a thoughtful solution to deal with this phenomenon that hurts every heart,” Montazeri said without elaborating.
Saturday’s announcement could represent an attempt to calm the public and find a way to end the protests, which have killed at least 470 people, according to human rights groups. More than 18,000 people were arrested during the protests and a violent crackdown by security forces that followed, according to a group monitoring the demonstrations in Iran.
Ali Alfone, a senior fellow at the Gulf Arab Institute in Washington, said Montazera’s announcement to shut down the morality police could be an attempt to calm the internal unrest without making any real concessions to the protesters.
“The secular middle class hates the organization (morality police) for restricting personal freedoms,” Alfonse said. On the other hand, “the underprivileged and socially conservative class resents the fact that it is convenient for them to stay away from the enforcement of the hijab law” in the more affluent areas of Iran’s cities.
When asked about Montazeri’s statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdalakhian did not give a direct answer. “Be assured that everything is going very well in Iran within the framework of democracy and freedom, which very clearly exists in Iran,” Amirabdalakhian said during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia.
The anti-government demonstrations, now in their third month, show no sign of stopping despite a heavy crackdown. Protesters say they are fed up with decades of social and political repression, including a strict dress code imposed on women. Young women continue to play a leading role in protests, removing the obligatory Islamic headscarves to express their rejection of spiritual rules.
After the explosion of protests, the Iranian government did not appear ready to listen to the demands of the protesters. He continued his crackdown on protesters, including sentencing at least seven arrested protesters to death. The authorities continue to blame the riots on hostile foreign states without providing any evidence.
But in recent days, Iranian state media appears to have taken a more conciliatory tone, expressing a desire to engage with the concerns of the Iranian people.