Protesters in Iran called on Sunday for a three-day strike this week, stepping up pressure on authorities after the public prosecutor said the morality police whose detention of a young woman triggered months of protests had been shut down.
There was no confirmation of the closure from the Interior Ministry which is in charge of the morality police, and Iranian state media said Public Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was not responsible for overseeing the force.
Top Iranian officials have repeatedly said Tehran would not change the Islamic Republic’s mandatory hijab policy, which requires women to dress modestly and wear headscarves, despite 11 weeks of protests against strict Islamic regulations.
Hundreds of people have been killed in the unrest which erupted in September after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who was detained by the morality police for flouting the hijab rules.
Protesters seeking to maintain their challenge to Iran‘s clerical rulers have called for a three-day economic strike and a rally at Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square on Wednesday, according to individual posts shared on Twitter by accounts unverified by Reuters. Many shop owners reacted to the calls for protests by shutting down their stores for the next three days.
President Ebrahim Raisi is due to address students in Tehran on the same day to mark Student Day in Iran.
Similar calls for strike action and mass mobilization have in past weeks resulted in an escalation in the unrest which has swept the country – some of the biggest anti-government protests since Iran‘s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The activist HRANA news agency said 470 protesters had been killed as of Saturday, including 64 minors. It said 18,210 demonstrators were arrested and 61 members of the security forces were killed.
Iran‘s Interior Ministry state security council said on Saturday the death toll was only 200, according to the judiciary’s news agency Mizan.
Residents posting on social media and newspapers such as Shargh daily say there have been fewer sightings of the morality police on the streets in recent weeks as authorities apparently try to avoid provoking more protests.
On Saturday, Montazeri was cited by the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency as saying that the morality police had been disbanded.
“The same authority which has established this police has shut it down,” he was quoted as saying. He said the morality police was not under the judiciary’s authority, which “continues to monitor behavioral actions at the community level.”
Al Alam state television said foreign media were depicting his comments as “a retreat on the part of the Islamic Republic from its stance on hijab and religious morality as a result of the protests”, but that all that could be understood from his comments was that the morality police were not directly related to the judiciary.
Western officials have expressed skepticism over the announcement with many taking a “wait and see” approach. On CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised the “extraordinary courage” of protesters but said that while the announcement of the disbanding of the morality of police ” could be a positive thing,” the administration will “have to see how it actually plays out in practice.”
Iran has abolished their morality police. Will this help settle the months of protest that have been raging over the death of Mahsa Amini? This “could be a positive thing,” Sec. of State Antony Blinken says. “But we have to see how it actually plays out in practice.” pic.twitter.com/BeRNpEI7cl
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) December 4, 2022
State media said four men convicted of cooperating with Israel’s spy agency Mossad were executed on Sunday.
They had been arrested in June – before the current unrest sweeping the country – following cooperation between the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards, Tasnim news agency reported.
The prime minister’s office in Israel, which oversees Mossad, declined to comment.
The Islamic Republic has long accused arch-enemy Israel of carrying out covert operations on its soil. Tehran has recently accused Israeli of plotting a civil war in Iran, a charge it has also made against the United States and other Western countries.
“Western countries are using the protests to interfere in Iran‘s internal affairs,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told a news conference on Sunday.
Iranian state media reported on Wednesday that the country’s Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence handed out to the four men “for the crime of cooperating with the intelligence services of the Zionist regime and for kidnapping”.
Three other people were handed prison sentences of between five and 10 years after being convicted of crimes that included acting against national security, aiding in kidnapping, and possessing illegal weapons, the Mehr news agency said.
Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters. Additions and edits for FISM News by Michael Cardinal