Senior ayatollahs say Iran’s morality police are ‘illegal and un-Islamic’
Two of Iran’s senior ayatollahs have said the country’s feared morality police are illegal and un-Islamic as violent protests broke out against the supreme leader over the death of a woman beaten for not wearing her hijab properly.
The force, known as Gashteh Ershad (guiding vigilantes), is “not only an illegal and anti-Islamic body, but also illogical”, said Ayatollah Bayat Zanjani on Saturday in an official statement.
“No part of our country’s laws assigns any mission or responsibility to this vigilante force,” he added, accusing it of committing “repression and immoral acts”.
In a separate statement, another ayatollah, Mohaqeq Damad, echoed that sentiment: “The establishment of the force for promotion of virtues and prevention of vice is in fact meant to monitor the rulers’ actions, not to crack down on the citizens’ freedoms and is a deviation from Islamic teachings.”
A reformist group said the police force should now be abolished. “The national tragedy of the horrific death of Mahsa Amini is so great that nothing but the complete scrapping of the Gashte Ershad by the authorities will do,” said the Front of Iranian Reformists on Saturday.
The rare criticism of one of the pillars of the Islamic Republic’s ideological regime comes as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made his first public appearance in weeks on Saturday amid media reports that he was “gravely ill”.
Pictures showed him looking frail and wearing a face mask as he attended a religious ceremony, but he spoke in a steady voice as he told students gathered to be patient when facing hard times.
However, he made no mention of Amini, a 22-year-old woman whose death on Friday, apparently at the hands of the morality police, quickly went viral as people tweeted with the hashtag “Murder Patrol” and shared historic videos of Mr Khamenei saying women who dressed immodestly should be punished.
Amini fell into a coma on Friday and later died after reportedly being arrested in Tehran for wearing her hijab in such a way that she was showing some hair.
Activists say she was beaten and died of a brain haemorrhage, but the police say she suffered a heart attack. Her mother has rejected the official justification as “a lie to cover up the killing of my innocent angel”.
Wearing a headscarf is compulsory in the Islamic Republic, and those caught without one risk being imprisoned for up to two months and fined.
Amini’s body was returned to her hometown of Saghez in the restive Kurdish region of Iran, where thousands attended her burial on Saturday morning and held a demonstration.
Videos posted on social media showed thousands of local people walking behind her coffin and shouting “death to the dictator” and “shame on our supreme leader” in reference to Mr Khamenei. Pictures of them tearing down posters of him quickly spread on social media.
Security forces fired tear gas into the protesting crowds, with at least one person reportedly suffering head injuries.
A note on Amini’s grave read: “You have not died; you live on as a symbol for our nation.”
Many Iranians blame Mr Khamenei for her death because the idea of launching the morality force has long been associated with his draconian stance on the role of women in society.
In many of his speeches he has praised the vigilante force’s actions and encouraged them to “do whatever you see fit to uphold the moral values of our system in respect of women”.
“This is the same man who spoke for hours condemning the death of George Floyd in America, but has not said one word about the crime that has happened in our own country on his watch,” said women rights activist Fatemeh Sepehri.
Amini’s death has prompted condemnations from many public Iranian figures.
Bahman Ghobadi, a renowned filmmaker, said: “Our mother country of Iran has suffered a brain haemorrhage now. It is time we all unite and end the injustice that rules over all of us.”
Ali Daie, former captain of Iran’s national football team, tweeted: “My young daughter is asking me ‘Dad, what wrong had Mahsa done to die?’ And I am speechless.”