A year following the widespread protests in Iran concerning the mistreatment of women, fresh allegations have surfaced against Iran’s “morality police.” This time, the focus of attention is on a distressing incident involving a 16-year-old girl named Amrita Garawand, who has been hospitalised after reportedly being physically assaulted by the morality police, leaving her in a coma.
As per a report by Hengaw, an exiled human rights organisation, the incident involving Amrita unfolded when she was subjected to a physical assault due to what the morality police deemed non-compliance with the mandatory “hijab.” Consequently, she suffered serious injuries and had to be transported to the hospital.
The government’s official news agency, Fars, released an interview with the girl’s parents, during which they asserted that she had not been subjected to an attack. In the interview, the mother was quoted as saying, “…and after boarding the train, she experienced a sudden drop in blood pressure, leading to losing her balance and falling.” Nevertheless, Iranian authorities have a history of disseminating coerced interviews, which has sparked online accusations that they may have similarly compelled Amrita’s parents to make their statement.
The incident and the conflicting explanations surrounding it have drawn striking parallels to the events that preceded the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested by the morality police for non-compliance with hijab regulations.
In light of these controversies, the morality police in Iran has found itself embroiled in numerous issues. This raises the question: what is Iran’s morality police, and what is the legal framework that governs their existence?
The “Gasht-e-Ershad” or “Guidance Patrol,” commonly referred to as Iran’s morality police, is a specialised law enforcement division tasked with upholding Islamic codes of behavior, with a particular emphasis on public morality and compliance with the Islamic dress code. Their primary mission revolves around monitoring and regulating social conduct, ensuring that individuals conform to the interpretation of Islamic values as set forth by the Iranian government.
The morality police, in their patrolling efforts, engage in various activities to enforce their mandates. These activities encompass verifying that women adhere to hijab and modest dressing, intervening to prevent unrelated men and women from mingling in public areas and monitoring public behaviour to ensure alignment with Islamic principles. They may also take action against activities like public displays of affection or playing loud music in public spaces as part of their enforcement measures.
When individuals are apprehended by the “morality police,” they typically undergo a formal notification process or, in specific cases, are taken to designated education and guidance centres or police stations. At these locations, they are obliged to attend a mandatory lecture on hijab (the Islamic dress code) and Islamic values. After the lecture, individuals are instructed to contact someone to provide them with “appropriate clothing” to facilitate their release.
The Legal Framework
The Iranian Constitution does not explicitly mention the term “Gasht-e Ershad” or “Guidance Patrol.” Instead, the Constitution establishes a comprehensive legal and ideological foundation for the Iranian government, underscoring the Islamic nature of the state and the necessity of adhering to Islamic principles in every facet of governance.
The Guidance Patrol is a specific law enforcement entity that operates under the authority of the Iranian government. While the Iranian Constitution doesn’t mention the Guidance Patrol by name, it provides the overarching legal framework that allows for the existence and operation of such law enforcement agencies in line with Islamic principles. The details of the Patrol’s mandate and operations may be further defined in specific domestic laws, regulations, and directives issued by relevant authorities.
The preamble of the Iranian Constitution underscores the Islamic nature of the state, its commitment to the ideals of the Islamic Revolution, and its dedication to the teachings of Islam. It formally designates Iran as an “Islamic Republic.” Article 1 of the Constitution establishes Iran’s government as “Islamic” in form and grounded in “authentic Islamic principles.”
Specific laws related to public morality, dress codes, and behaviour in public spaces are defined in Iran’s legal system. These laws and regulations may guide law enforcement agencies, including those responsible for enforcing morality standards.
Chapter Eighteen titled ‘Crimes against public prudency and morality’ in the Book Five of the Islam Penal Code talks about the rules.
Article 637 states that in cases where individuals who are not in a legally recognized marital union engage in indecent conduct, such as kissing or sharing sleeping arrangements, other than the offense of Zina (illicit sexual relations), they may be subject to a punishment of up to ninety-nine lashes.
Article 638 makes a note that women who appear in public spaces and on roads without adhering to the Islamic hijab dress code may face penalties, including imprisonment for a duration of ten days to two months or a fine ranging from fifty thousand to five hundred Rials.
Their punishments, however, sometimes are brutal and tend to overlook the ones mentioned in these legal frameworks.
The role and activities of the morality police have been a subject of controversy and debate, both within Iran and internationally, with critics raising concerns about their impact on individual freedoms and human rights.
Iran’s human rights record, including the activities of the morality police, has been the subject of scrutiny by international organisations like the United Nations and human rights groups. Reports and statements by these organisations have highlighted concerns about the impact on individual freedoms and women’s rights in Iran.
Women in Iran have been at the forefront of protests against morality police actions. Critics argue that these laws infringe on women’s rights to dress as they choose and express themselves freely. The enforcement of hijab laws has led to various forms of punishment, including warnings, fines, and arrests. Arrests and prosecutions of women who defy hijab laws have led to international attention and condemnation. The “White Wednesdays” movement, for example, saw Iranian women protesting compulsory hijab by wearing white headscarves.
The morality police also oversee and enforce gender segregation in public spaces and regulate interactions between unrelated individuals of the opposite sex. This has been criticised for limiting personal freedoms and imposing strict social and religious norms on society.
Ultimately, the role and actions of Iran’s morality police remain a subject of ongoing controversy and debate, with questions about the balance between religious values and individual liberties at the forefront of discussions both within Iran and on the global stage. The conflicting narratives surrounding incidents like the one involving Amrita Garawand and the tragic case of Mahsa Amini underscore the need for transparency and accountability within the morality police’s operations.