Iran has reportedly bolstered its morality police force, introducing new units to monitor women’s headscarves amid a perceived uptick in defiance of the country’s mandatory veiling laws.
According to a report published in the British Telegraph Friday, officials have launched 2,000 new morality police units made up of six women each in the northern Iranian province of Gilan as part of a pilot program. The units are called “resistance groups for verbal and practical response to bad-hijabi women,” the Telegraph reported.
The units have the power to detain and arrest women they deem to be violating the country’s strict dress code, which includes donning headscarves in public. Those who violate the rule are usually sentenced to two months or less in prison and fined around $25.
The move came amid growing protests by women against the compulsory wearing of the headscarf, or hijab, since 2017, with hundreds of protesters arrested for taking off their veils to demonstrate against the law.
A prominent human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was sentenced in May to seven years in prison after defending anti-hijab protesters.
In April, a woman who removed her hijab in a public protest, Vida Movahed, was sentenced to one year in prison, but pardoned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, her lawyer said.
The hijab has been matter of dispute since the 1980s, when it became compulsory under the law, though women were still allowed to drive and hold public office.
In Tehran today, some fashionable young women wear tighter clothes with a scarf loosely covering their head, technically meeting the requirements of the law, while drawing the ire of conservatives.
Both President Hassan Rouhani and Khamenei, support a softer attitude toward women who do not properly follow the dress code, although hard-liners who are opposed to any such easing still dominate Iran’s security forces and the judiciary.
The Telegraph report cited Mohammad Abdulahpour, the commander of Gilan province’s Revolutionary Guards unit, as saying that “the issue of hijab is not a simple matter, but rather a serious political and security issue for our country.”
“The enemy is heavily investing in changing our nation’s culture to adopt a Western lifestyle,” Abdulahpour said, according to the Tasnim news agency.
Cleric Rasoul Falahati, a representative of Khamenei in the province, criticized women who violated the hijab laws.
“We do not wish to show a violent image of our religion, but models and promoters of vile fashions not only defy the hijab,” he said. “But are nowadays appearing almost naked on our streets.”
AP contributed to this report.