By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
TEHRAN (Worthy News) – Iran’s morality police, which is tasked with enforcing the country’s strict Islamic dress code, has been disbanded following weeks of protests that killed hundreds of people, authorities say.
“Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary and have been abolished,” Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying by the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
His comment came at a religious conference where he responded to a participant who asked “why the morality police were being shut down,” the report said.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew Iran’s U.S.-backed monarchy, there has been official monitoring of the strict dress code for both men and women.
The policy also included persecution of devoted Christians, especially those who abandoned Islam, several sources said, but it remained unclear whether their situation would change.
Under hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the morality police — known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad or “Guidance Patrol” — was established to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab.”
The units were set up by Iran’s Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, which is today headed by President Ebrahim Raisi.
YEARS OF PATROLS
The morality police began their patrols in 2006 to even more strictly observe the dress code that the Islamic authorities had already enforced. The policy requires women to wear long clothes and forbids shorts, ripped jeans, and other garments deemed immodest.
Yet the reported scrapping of this Islamic nation’s religious police comes after months of protests sparked by the death of a young woman in custody.
Mahsa Amini, a 21-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died in custody on September 16, three days after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran, the capital.
Amini was detained for allegedly breaking strict rules on head coverings, and her family said she had been beaten, charges the police denied.
An Iranian general said more than 300 people were killed in the following unrest, including dozens of security force members.
Oslo-based non-government organization Iran Human Rights said last week that at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
Thousands of people have been arrested, including prominent Iranian actors and footballers. Among them was the actor Hengameh Ghaziani, who was detained last month. She published a video on the social media platform Instagram removing her head covering. The actor was later freed on bail, Iranian news agencies reported.
FREEDOM FOR CHRISTIANS?
The latest developments seem to be part of what protestors view as a new revolution for more freedom. “Just because the government has decided to dismantle morality police, it doesn’t mean the protests are ending,” one Iranian woman told the media. “Even the government saying the hijab is a personal choice is not enough. People know Iran has no future with this government in power.”
Another woman said: “We, the protesters, don’t care about no hijab anymore. We’ve been going out without it for the past 70 days. A revolution is what we have. Hijab was the start of it, and we don’t want anything, anything less, but death for the dictator and a regime change.”
It wasn’t immediately apparent what impact the announced revolution could have on the embattled Christian minority and other non-Muslims facing difficulties in Iran. Many Christians have been detained and jailed for years, often on charges related to unauthorized worship and abandoning Islam.
“Converts from Islam to Christianity are most at risk of persecution, especially by the government and to a lesser extent by society and their own families. The government sees the church’s growth in Iran as an attempt by Western countries to undermine Islam and the Islamic regime of Iran,” said the Christian advocacy group Open Doors.
“House groups made up of converts from Muslim backgrounds are often raided, and both their leaders and members have been arrested, prosecuted and given long prison sentences for ‘crimes against national security,’” it added.
The historical communities of Armenian and Assyrian Christians are recognized and protected by the state. Still, critics say they are treated as “second-class citizens” and note they are not allowed contact with Christians from Muslim backgrounds.
Despite the reported crackdown, Christianity has been spreading throughout protests-hit Iran, according to Iranian church leaders and human rights investigators.
There are at least 800,000 devoted Christians in Iran, according to conservative estimates, among a mainly Muslim population of more than 84 million. However, some church groups believe the actual figure of Christians could be higher.
“More Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran. In 1979, there were an estimated 500 Christians from a Muslim background in Iran,” noted Elam Ministries, a mission group founded by Iranian church leaders.
“Today, there are hundreds of thousands—some say more than 1 million. Whatever the exact number, many Iranians are turning to Jesus as Lord and Savior,” the group added.
With many women abandoning the hijab and demanding freedom, it remained a question Monday whether this could lead to even more openness to the Christian faith.
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