Amidst international media reports celebrating the alleged disbanding of Iran's morality police, Iranian citizens and activists warn that the "fake news" is a mere tool for eyewash and will not make any real difference to the hijab rules on the ground.
Dariush (name changed), a student activist, told The Quint, “We are not even paying attention to this news in Iran, because it’s not true. The regime is scared because we are not stopping the protests. They already killed so many girls for not wearing a hijab over the years, even before the morality police existed. They arrested dozens of students just this week. So, it will not change anything on the ground.”
The news of the alleged dissolution of the morality police comes at a time when protesters in the nation are beginning their three-day strike from 5-7 December.
Elnaz (name changed), another student, said:
“I know that they will rename the morality police and will continue repression of women’s rights. The only platform where people are talking about it is western Twitter and western news. We will be protesting for three days and they’re scared of us. That’s why they announced this fake news.”
“It’s a hoax, a PR stunt, and the gullible western media is falling for it. They will continue stopping women, arresting, and kidnapping women for not wearing hijabs," another Iranian woman told The Quint.
Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad has also disparaged the news of the alleged abolition of the morality police as "disinformation."
Is the News 'Fake'? What We Know
There is no official order to confirm whether the morality police has indeed been abolished.
The international news reports on the abolition of the morality police were based on comments Iran’s attorney general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri at a religious conference on Saturday, 3 December.
"The morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary system. The same source that created it in the past, from the same place it has shut down. Of course, the judiciary system will continue its surveillance of social behaviours across society," Montazeri had said at the event, suggesting a shutdown of the paramilitary force which is responsible for enforcing Sharia dress code.
The ambiguous comment snowballed into news reports from credible international dailies claiming that the morality police has been abolished.
Several activists have pointed out that the inconclusive comments of one official do not necessarily translate to policy change.
The Iranian state television denied any such shut down. “No official in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of the morality police," stated the state-run channel al-Alam on Sunday.
The morality police or guidance patrol is not a unit, but a program run by the Iranian police on the basis of Council of Cultural Revolution directives. So, even if the special patrolling on the streets is discontinued, there will be no difference in the rules for women till the hijab mandate is scrapped.
"The morality police have not been disbanded for sure. The morality or hijab police are directed by the Iranian police forces. We haven't seen so many of them on the streets since the protests broke out three months ago and some analysts believe that it is because the police have been so heavily involved in the suppression of the protests," Maryam Moqaddam, an Iranian journalist, told The Quint.
But, the Disbanding May Not Be a 'Win for Women'
While there is confusion over whether the morality police has been put out of service or not, citizens assert that it will not make a significant difference for the women of Iran.
"Abolition of the morality police, even if it is true – which we don't know yet – will not have any consequences as long as the laws on compulsory hijab still exist," Director of NGO Iran Human Rights Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, told The Quint.
Even the public prosecutor's remark, which led to celebratory reports, indicates that women of Iran will continue to be surveilled by the judiciary as per the Sharia law of the country.
It is also pertinent to note that the uprising in Iran, which ignited after the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody in October, is no longer just against the hijab laws or the morality police, but is seeking an end to the Islamic Republic.
"Iranian people are protesting for all their fundamental rights and have had enough of the oppressive, incompetent, and corrupt regime. They want fundamental changes beyond the hijab and the morality police. To me, it looks like a propaganda move to ease the existing pressure on the regime."Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Director of Iran Human Rights
Reported dismantling of the morality police, then, is not enough cause to celebrate.
Further, the timing of the public prosecutor's announcement – right before a three-day nationwide strike from 5-7 December, ending on Student Day in Iran – is being construed as a distraction from the people's protest.