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Iran suspends morality police unit that sparked major protests

A woman with makeup that looks like blood tears held a jersey with the name of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who died after been arrested by the Iranian morality police, at the World Cup in Qatar.GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

The operations of Iran’s “morality police” have effectively been suspended after months of massive anti-government protests over the death of a young woman in its custody, a top official said.

Officially called the Guidance Patrol, the police unit has for years stalked major intersections and thoroughfares in Iranian cities, arresting mostly young women for flouting the Islamic Republic’s strict religious dress codes.

“The Guidance Patrol has nothing to do with the judiciary; it was suspended by the same institution that formed it in the past,” the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency reported, citing Chief Public Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri. “Of course, the judiciary continues to monitor behavior in the community.”

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The comments, which fall short of an official dissolution of the unit, follow deadly unrest and protests that have challenged Iran’s theocratic leadership on a scale not seen since they took power after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In a statement published in the moderate Shargh newspaper on Saturday, Montazeri said that the judiciary was already working on a draft proposal for amendments to how authorities enforce laws “pertaining to chastity and hijab,” referring to the Arabic word used to describe religious modesty codes.

“Following recent events, the relevant bodies are looking for a prudent solution,” he said, adding that Iran’s parliament and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution plan to reach a decision on how to go forward within 15 days.

On Sept. 13, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, was arrested by one of the morality patrols after leaving a metro station in central Tehran. She fell into a coma shortly after being taken to the unit’s headquarters in the city, and died days later.

According to rights groups, more than 400 people have been killed by security forces in the protests, including scores of children. The United Nations said last month that more than 14,000 people have so far been arrested for taking part and many stand accused of serious offenses that carry the death penalty.

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Since 2006, green and white Guidance Patrol minivans have cruised busy streets, especially during summer, arresting passersby deemed to be improperly dressed.

Amini’s death sparked a public outcry, and many women began publicly shunning or destroying head-scarves that have been compulsory for women and girls for decades. Many are now seen out in public in Tehran’s more liberal enclaves without head coverings.

Iranian officials have repeatedly accused foreign countries, including the US, of instigating the unrest and have vowed to continue their heavy crackdown on protesters.

Last month, the United Nations said it would investigate Iran for human rights violations and called on the Islamic Republic to immediately end its targeting of demonstrators.