As Iran continues to simmer over anti-hijab protests for over two months now, several media outlets, including The New York Times, BBC and AFP, on Sunday reported that the controversial morality police or Gasht-e Ershad — in charge of upholding the country's draconian Islamic dress code — had been abolished. However, certain sections of the media in Iran, along with activists and journalists, both inside and outside the country, are saying that the news is false.
The morality police have been at the heart of the controversy in Iran over 22-year-old Mahasa Amini's death in police custody after being apprehended allegedly for not wearing hijab properly.
Media reports cited state media quoting Iranian Attorney General Mohammad Javad Montazeri as saying that the police force had been "abolished by the same authorities who installed it". However, Iranian state officials have denied issuing any order related to the abolishing morality police.
Iranian website Entakhab said that "no official in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of the Irshad Patrol." "The maximum impression that can be taken from the words of Hojjat al-Islam Montazeri is that the guidance patrol has not been related to the judiciary since its establishment," a rough translation of the report by Entakhab read.
Here's what the media reported and what activists and journalists are saying:
What has the media reported?
The New York Times reported that a senior Iranian official had over the weekend said that "Iran had abolished the morality police". It further added that it was unclear if the official's statement "amounted to a final decision by the theocratic government".
Similarly, BBC also quoted Montazeri's saying that the morality police was being "disbanded". The report said that Montazeri made the comments at a religious conference. It also said that Montazeri on Saturday told the Iranian parliament that law pertaining to the dress code for women would be reviewed.
News agency AFP quoted local media and said that Iran had scrapped its morality police amid anti-hijab protests triggered by Amini's death in September.
While the comments made by Attorney General Montazeri were cited by media reports, the charge of the morality police lies with the interior ministry of Iran and not the judiciary. The interior ministry is yet to give any confirmation on the reports of disbanding of the morality police, Reuters reported.
Al Jazeera also reported there was no confirmation on whether the patrolling units of the morality police had been terminated or if the units had been scrapped indefinitely.
The news reports come amid Iranian protesters calling for a three-day strike to amplify pressure on the government that has maintained that the laws that make wearing the hijab mandatory for women would not be scrapped. Reuters reported that protesters called for an economic boycott and a march to Azadi Square in Tehran on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Iranian state media distanced itself from Montazeri's remarks, The Guardian reported, claiming that Montazeri was not in charge of the morality police.
What have activists said?
Activists and journalists in Iran have also criticised the news reports on morality police. Human rights defender Atena Daemi said that the reports of the closing down of morality police were to deceive the protesters.
A rough translation of Daemi's tweet reads: "The headline "Gesht Irshad was closed" is only to deceive and calm the revolutionaries, Mantaziri claimed that they continue their surveillance and asked for help from the people who are hurt by the lack of veiling in order to present a scientific plan to fight evil/immodesty."
Toronto-based journalist Samira Mohyeddin cited a news report published by Etemad Online which quoted Montazeri saying that no official in Iran has confirmed the closure of morality police.
Journalist and women's rights activist Masih Alinejad said that the morality police had not been disbanded and that the news was put out without proper research. She said it was "pure propaganda" by the Iranian government to placate the protesters.
Journalist Nahayat Tizhoosh pointed out the discrepancies in Montazeri's statement since he is not in charge of the morality police. "Montazeri doesn't specify who allegedly shut down the morality police (and when and how)," she wrote on Twitter.
Iranian American journalist and activist Mana Shooshtari called it a 'brand rehabilitation' for the Iranian regime.
French-Iranian author Marjane Satrapi, best-known for her graphic novel Persepolis, said on Instagram, "It has been evoked.No decision has been taken. The problem of Iran goes beyond morality police. Do you think all these young people have died just for a scarf? Do you think without the fucking morality police we will be free and enjoy our human rights? We want freedom. We want democracy. We want change of regime." Satrapi share this message with the screenshot from a post created by another Instagram account called Middle East Matters, a youth organisation.
Middle East Matters, meanwhile, explained on Instagram that there were no "no official statements by the police force, the executive branch, or the parliament to confirm that the work of the "morality police" has been terminated".
Gissou Nia, a human rights lawyer who works with the Strategic Litigation Project at the Atlantic Council, called the moral police being abolished in Iran as "fake news".