Shopkeepers and truck drivers went on strike in nearly 40 cities and towns on Monday following calls for a nationwide three-day general strike from protesters as the government refused to confirm a senior official’s claim of abolishing the morality police.
Instead, Iranian newspapers reported an increase in patrols, particularly in religious cities, requiring women to wear headscarves, and store managers being directed by the police to strengthen restrictions on headscarves.
The confusion may be due in part to the mixed messages a divided regime is sending as it seeks to quell protests.
Iran has seen 11 weeks of unrest since the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mohsa Amini, in police custody after being arrested by the morality police.
The show of force in the shop strike satisfied the demonstrators because it showed the discontent with the government still rife in major cities such as Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz, and Shiraz. Hengaw, an Iranian Kurdish human rights organization, reported that 19 cities had joined the strike movement in western Iran, where most of the country’s Kurdish population lives.
Political prisoners called for Three days of protests to be supported. Posters also appeared on the streets urging respect for the strike.
Government officials continued to claim that the protests were over, but also admitted to closing many stores, which they blamed on intimidation which they said would lead to criminal charges.
Meanwhile, senior politicians including President Ebrahim Raisi and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Qalibaf said they would visit Tehran universities on Wednesday to discuss reforms with striking students, a previously counterproductive tactic.
In a sign that the government is not relaxing hijab rules, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Monday that the judiciary closed an amusement park in a shopping mall in Tehran because its employees did not wear headscarves properly.
Reform-leaning newspaper Ham Mihan said the morality police had beefed up its presence in cities outside Tehran, where the force has been less active in recent weeks.
The controversy over whether the force was closed arose when the public prosecutor, Mohammad Jaafar Montazeri, was asked about the morality police at a conference, at which he said, “The morality police has been closed from where it was created”.
He added that they “have nothing to do with the judiciary” and “the judiciary will continue to monitor behavioral behavior at the community level.”
Iranian official authorities have not yet officially responded to the controversy. Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, was asked about the disbanding of the morality police during a visit to Serbia on Sunday, saying, “In Iran, everything is moving forward well within the framework of democracy and freedom.”
A journalist from Tehran told the Guardian: “The security forces and police are all focused on suppressing the protests, so they don’t have the resources to use to deal with women without headscarves. The guidance patrol in the form we used to see on the streets has completely disappeared and does not exist. On one of the days of the demonstrations in Tehran, I passed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps without a headscarf. They just looked at me with angry looks, but they didn’t have any other interaction.”
She added that the Basij paramilitary forces are still active at night, perhaps more outside of Tehran.
In Rasht, a women’s rights activist said she had not seen the so-called steering and car patrols for the past two and a half months.
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