Iranian merchants and truckers staged a strike in nearly 40 cities and towns on Monday after protesters called for a three-day nationwide general strike, as the government refused to confirm a senior official’s claim that Iranian police morality had been abolished.
Instead, Iranian newspapers reported increased patrols, especially in religious cities, requiring women to wear the hijab, and police ordering store managers to tighten hijab restrictions.
The confusion may be due in part to the mixed messages being sent by a divided regime in its attempt to quell the protests.
Iran has been rocked by 11 weeks of unrest since a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody after being arrested by the moral police.
The show of force in the shop strike satisfied the protesters as it showed that discontent with the government was still rife in major cities such as Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz and Shiraz. The Iranian Kurdish rights group Hengaw also reported that 19 cities had joined the strike movement in western Iran, where the majority of the country’s Kurdish population lives.
Political prisoners called for support for the three-day protests. Posters also appeared on the streets urging that the strike be respected.
Government officials continued to claim that the protests were over, but also admitted that many shops had been closed and blamed intimidation which they said would lead to criminal charges.
At the same time, senior politicians including President Ebrahim Raisi and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Qalibaf said they would visit Tehran’s universities on Wednesday to discuss the reforms with striking students, a tactic that previously backfired.
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 Tehran shopping mall because its operators were not wearing the hijab properly.
The reform-leaning Ham-Mihan newspaper said morality police had increased their presence in cities outside Tehran, where the force has been less active in recent weeks.
The controversy over whether the force had been shut down arose when Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was asked about the morality police at a conference, at which he said: “The morality police have been shut down from where they were installed ”. .
He added that they “had nothing to do with the judiciary” and “the judiciary would continue to monitor behavioral actions at the community level.”
Iran’s official authorities have yet to formally react to the controversy. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was asked about the disbandment of the moral police during a visit to Serbia on Sunday, saying: “In Iran, everything is progressing well within the framework of democracy and freedom.”
A Tehran journalist told The Guardian: “The security forces and the police are all focused on suppressing the protests, so they don’t have the resources to deal with the unveiled women. The wayfinding patrol in the form we used to see on the streets has completely disappeared and does not exist. On one of the days of demonstrations in Tehran, I passed by the IRGC guard forces without a hijab. They just looked at me. Their gazes were furious, but they had no other interaction.”
He also added that Basij paramilitary forces were still active at night, and likely more outside of Tehran.
In Rasht, a women’s rights activist says she hadn’t seen so-called orientation patrols or cars in the past two and a half months.