Iran begins strikes after morality police are abolished

Iranian protesters tried to build pressure with three-day nationwide strikes starting Monday, fueling further unrest in the riot-stricken country even as a senior official suggested the Islamic Republic’s morality police had been abolished.

Amid uncertainty over the status of the feared entity whose behavior helped spark months of protests, many activists on social media dismissed proposals for a government ouster said there should be no concessions to the state. The Biden administration also expressed skepticism.

Social media has been flooded with people including prominent members of the Iranian diaspora – who called a general strike across the country, and shop fronts were closed in several cities across Iran, Reuters reported.

A video that was widely shared showed a person spray-painting “14, 15, 16” on a billboard on Tehran’s Mirdamad Boulevard — this week’s strike dates in Iran’s solar Hijri calendar.

In the video, which was geolocated by NBC News, the person also writes “Mahsa Amini/ for Freedom”. Amini was the young woman whose death in September sparked the nationwide protests. She died in hospital three days after she was arrested by the country’s vice squad for allegedly violating strict dress code laws.

Demonstrations against her death have morphed into a broader movement, parts of which are calling for an open revolution, the strongest challenge to the theocratic regime since it came to power in 1979.

Iranians protest the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran on October 1, 2022.AP

At least 470 people were killed and about 18,000 arrested in the ensuing crackdown by security forces, according to a tweet from Human Rights Activists in Iran, a US-based human rights group. Other human rights groups make a similar assessment although Iran’s Interior Ministry on Saturday said the death toll was near 200, including security forces killed.

On Sunday, Iran’s chief prosecutor, Mohamed Jafar Montazeri, seemed to relent.

He said the vice squad had been “abolished” and that officials were reviewing the country’s mandatory hijab laws (which many young Iranians have long since abandoned anyway).

His unwritten comments were published by the semi-official news outlets ISNA and ILNA, as well as several other media outlets. However, Iran’s main state media agencies did not cover the remarks, possibly signaling that they were not sanctioned by the political establishment.

Nor have they been repeated by the Iranian President or Supreme Leader. And it’s not clear if what Montazeri said actually happened. The moral police have not been seen on the streets of Tehran and other cities for about two months.

When asked about Montazeri’s testimony, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian gave no direct answer. “Be assured that everything is going very well in Iran within the framework of democracy and freedom that clearly exist in Iran,” Amirabdollahian said during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia, according to The Associated Press.

Some experts and activists have been suspicious of the suggestion that the vice squad has been shut down.

Nazanin Boniadi, a Tehran-born British actor and human rights activist, tweeted that it was probably not an official announcement, just “a trial balloon floated by an official” who “clearly understands that the leaders of the regime are in a state of emergency.”

The United States has been similarly skeptical about Iran relaxing its hijab laws, according to a senior Biden administration official. They said it’s possible the announcement was made to reduce attendance at this week’s three days of strikes.

A State Department spokesman called reports of the reforms “ambiguous” and “vague” and said the US had seen no signs that “the Iranian leadership is improving its treatment of women and girls or stopping the violence it inflicts on peaceful protesters.” inflicts”.

Matteo Moschella , Andrea Mitchel, Abigail Williams , Reuters and The Associated Press contributed.

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