Iranian women have been in a state of unrest since the death of 22-year-old Masha Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
This special police force, named Gasht-e Ershad (literally translation-Direction Patroller), is tasked with ensuring that people respect Islamic ideals and principles and arresting anyone found to be wearing immoral clothing.
According to Sharia law in Iran, it is mandatory for women to wear hijab or cover their heads with a veil. In addition, the country has a provision for women to wear long and loose clothing up to the feet to fully cover the body.
Amini was arrested on September 13 by the Morality Police in Tehran for allegedly wearing immoral clothing. Masha Amini fainted and fell into a coma shortly after being taken to a detention center. He died in hospital three days later.
Allegations that the officers beat her on the head with a baton and rammed Miz Amini’s head into one of their vehicles are denied by the police force.
An officer of this special surveillance police force named Gasht-e Ershad spoke about his experience of working in the force in a private interview given to the media on the condition of anonymity.
‘They tell us that we are working in this police force to protect women,’ she said. ‘Because if women don’t dress properly, they will harm those women.’
He said they work in groups of six. The team consists of four male and two female policemen. They pay more attention to the areas where people move more on foot and the areas where people are more crowded.
Those who do not wear the hijab properly or do not dress according to Islamic customs, the Iranian authorities began to crack down on those who do not wear the hijab properly immediately after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. One of the major goals of that revolution was to stop women from wearing revealing clothes.
Although many women in Iran at the time wore Islamic dress, before the movement to oust pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, women could be seen walking the streets of Tehran in short skirts and uncovered heads.
Within months of Iran becoming an Islamic Republic, the Shah’s rule began the process of repealing Western-style laws protecting women’s so-called rights.
Immediately after the revolution, men and women were handing out gift-wrapped hijabs to women on the streets of the Iranian government.
The leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a decree or directive on March 7, 1979 that required all women to wear the hijab in their workplaces.
Then in 1981, women and girls were legally required to wear clothes suitable for protecting their eyebrows according to Islamic custom. This means that women should wear a chador i.e. a loose garment that covers their entire body up to their feet and if possible a small scarf underneath. Or cover the body with a full-length hijab and a long-sleeved overcoat.
Parliament decided in 1983 that women who did not cover their heads in public would be punished with 74 lashes. More recently, this sentence has been accompanied by up to 60 days in jail.
However, since then, the authorities have had to speed up the implementation of this law.
Iran’s special police force, which is responsible for protecting morality, is often accused by the public of being too strict, often detaining women and releasing them only when a family member of the detained woman comes to guarantee that the woman will not violate the dress code in the future.
Religious leader Ibrahim Raisi, who was elected president last year, signed a directive on August 15 announcing the new restrictions in place. It says cameras will be installed to monitor what kind of clothes women are wearing in public.
In the days following Masha Amini’s death, women have been seen taking to the streets in various parts of the country to protest, with some taking off their headscarves in protest.