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Violent arrests seen in Iran as ‘morality patrols’ resume in nationwide crackdown

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A year and a half after the start of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests, police in Iran have resumed “morality patrols” to crack down on women violating the Islamic Republic’s strict hijab rules. Patrols consisting of uniformed male officers and female officers in black chadors have been seen in the capital Tehran and other cities, along with the notorious white vans used to transport arrested women to police stations. The FRANCE 24 Observers spoke to one woman arrested in Tehran shortly after the crackdown was announced on April 11. 

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has made pointed remarks about hijab in two recent speeches. On April 3, he said: “Hijab is a Sharia-based obligation that must not be abrogated […] Hijab is also a legal obligation, and everyone must respect the law.” A week later, on April 10, he repeated in another speech: “We do not want to impose religion on anyone, but we will fight non-conformism”.

These speeches were apparently the cue for Ahmad-Reza Radan, the Islamic Republic’s national police chief. A former military officer known for years for his brutal imposition of hijab rules, Radan announced in a press release on April 11 that police would crack down on women without a hijab. “Women must wear a hijab as it should be worn, otherwise the police will confront them according to the hijab law,” he said, adding that the crackdown would begin April 13. His office issued a statement on April 14 saying that hijab patrols had started nationwide. 

Starting April 15, amateur images and firsthand accounts began emerging from Tehran and other cities showing violent arrests of women by male and female police officers, including the use of tasers. Women also spoke of sexual harassment during the arrests.


This video posted on Instagram on April 16, 2024 shows male and female police officers violently arresting a woman over an alleged violation of Iran’s hijab law.

On April 15, journalist Dina Ghalibaf tweeted that she had been arrested that day by a morality patrol at the Sadeghiyeh metro station in Tehran, and that the officers had tasered her and sexually harassed her before taking her into detention. She was released but rearrested at her home on April 16 after reporting the incident on X. (Women arrested during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests frequently cited sexual abuse by the officers arresting them.)


A photograph widely shared on social networks (above) shows police in Tehran on April 16 apparently preparing for a “morality patrol”. The photograph, along with amateur videos of the same incident also posted online, shows a dozen male police officers in uniform, some wearing yellow fluorescent vests, next to a row of a dozen motorcycles. Four female officers are visible wearing black chadors, next to a white van. 

A video also posted on April 16 shows a woman on the street outside the Shirazi metro station in Tehran being forced into a white van by male officers in yellow vests and female officers in chadors.

READ MORE: ‘We continue our revolution’: Iran protesters dismiss claims that morality police were ‘disbanded’

The tactics – male officers in uniform, female officers in chadors, and white vans – are identical to those used by Iran’s so-called “morality police”, known as “Gasht-e-Ershad” in Persian, before Mahsa Amini’s death in their custody in September 2022. While the patrols disappeared from the streets during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests that followed, they now appear to have resumed. 

The only difference appears to be in the markings on the white vans. Before the protests, the vehicles had “Gasht-e-Ershad” (“Guidance patrol”) written on their windows. The white vans being used by police since April 15 have no markings indicating they are being used to enforce hijab rules. 

 

Left: A white police van in 2022 with the marking “Gasht-e-Ershad”, or “guidance patrol”, on its window, and a band of green used by Iran’s police. Right: A police van being used for hijab enforcement in April 2024 is all-white and has no markings identifying it as being used for “guidance patrol” purposes.
Left: A white police van in 2022 with the marking “Gasht-e-Ershad”, or “guidance patrol”, on its window, and a band of green used by Iran’s police. Right: A police van being used for hijab enforcement in April 2024 is all-white and has no markings identifying it as being used for “guidance patrol” purposes. © Observers


Another video shows the violence of Iranian police officers during the arrest of a woman. We can see that they have tasers and are ready to use them. The video was recorded in Tehran on April 16.

 

Police in Kish, a tourist island in the south of Iran, on April 17 published a video showing a convoy of police vehicles participating in the nationwide crackdown and the arrest of several women. Police in the cities of Kermanshah and Tabriz announced similar crackdowns. 

‘I was half naked and they did not stop touching me’

The FRANCE 24 Observers spoke to “Varesh,” a recent victim of a violent arrest by a police morality patrol in Tehran. A student in her twenties, she requested anonymity to protect herself from further prosecution. 

At the moment I am talking to you, my whole body aches. I’m covered in bruises. Six big police officers arrested me in the most brutal way imaginable. I resisted and they tore off my top so that I was half-naked. The touch of their hands on my skin was more disgusting than the pain from their fists and feet. In the end, I told them that I would come peacefully. I said: ‘Why are you touching me? Don’t touch my body, you disgust me.’ But they did not care.

People nearby tried to stop them from putting me in the van but there were many policemen. One of them kicked an old woman who had grabbed my hand so that they could not arrest me. 

They took me to the police station. I called my mother. She came and managed to convince the commander to release me. 

Yesterday I could not go outside, the pain is still too much. I have decided not to go outside on foot anymore – only in a car. They are a bunch of savages and they don’t care if they kill us.

 


This video posted on Telegram shows the arrest of a woman in Tehran’s Saadat Abad neighbourhood on April 16 by a police morality patrol.

We also spoke to “Agrin”. She is a 22-year-old Iranian student who took part in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests. She has had the experience of being arrested by the morality police before 2022 but not in the latest crackdown.

‘I have not changed the way I dress, and I’m not going to’

I haven’t looked at the news in the last few days, so I didn’t know the morality police were on the streets again. I was sitting in the car and said to myself: “Wow, they’re everywhere!”

I have not changed the way I dress and I’m not going to. And I haven’t seen any difference in the way women dress on the street either, despite the patrols everywhere.

I have already been arrested by the morality police. They don’t scare me and frankly I don’t care if they arrest me. If they arrest me, I’ll call my family to come and try to get me out. I have their support and even if the police detain me for a while, I don’t care. I’ve learned to live with the knowledge that I might be arrested. I have faced my fears and try my best to defend my convictions.

Every time I see or hear about someone being arrested by the morality police, I feel nothing but rage. I become more and more certain that I must leave this country as soon as possible.


This video was published on Telegram on April 17, 2024 by police in Kish, a tourist island in the south of Iran. It shows a convoy of police vehicles participating in the nationwide crackdown on hijab violations, and the arrest of several women.

Agrin also describes the general atmosphere in Iran:

‘I still feel the solidarity among people especially men toward women with no hijab’

Since the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests, I can dress – not exactly the way I want to but I can at least make some choices. I can go out on the street without a headscarf and usually just wear a shirt and trousers. In the car, it’s a bit risky because regime supporters can report us to the police based on our licence plates. 

Sometimes it’s difficult to go to cafés or restaurants because they are forced by the police to ask us to wear a headscarf. However, most of them ignore this pressure and let us do what we want, and then pay the price of being closed by the police for a while.

A year and a half after the protests began, I still see evidence of solidarity among Iranians, especially men, toward women who choose to go out with no hijab. There’s much less harassment in the street than before the “Woman, Life, Freedom.” 

Fortunately, our university is fine with how we dress. And since I work in the private sector, they don’t care how I dress either.

 

According to the law of the Islamic Republic, which is based on Islamic Sharia, women without an Islamic hijab risk one to ten days in prison. The regime’s police also impose fines and impound cars in which women are seen without a hijab.

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