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Iran Launches Undercover Morality Unit

By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL

Iranian authorities have launched a new undercover police unit that will be tasked with monitoring citizens' morality in the Iranian capital and reporting transgressions to authorities.

Tehran's police chief Hossein Sajedinia said that the male and female agents -- numbering around 7,000 -- will focus on issues such as "improper veiling and removal of veils inside cars," as well as noise pollution and reckless driving.

Sajedinia was quoted by the official news agency of Iran's judiciary, Mizan Online, as saying that the undercover agents will not have the right to directly confront people. Instead, agents will send police via text message the license plate numbers of the alleged violators and their crimes, for police to follow up.

The move is the latest initiative aimed at forcing Iranians to adhere to some of the strictures imposed after 1979 Islamic Revolution. Though not stated explicitly, the announcement appears aimed squarely at women, and enforcing laws that require wearing head veils and covering their bodies.

Iran's official news agency IRNA reported in recent days that a new campaign against immoral behavior and improper veiling had been launched in Tehran with morality police units stopping citizens at major highways and shopping centers.

Since the 1979 revolution, authorities have tried with varying degrees success to force Iranians to conform to conservative dress codes. Despite arrests, fines, and threats, though, many Iranian women, particularly in Tehran and other major cities, have pushed the boundaries, wearing small colorful scarfs, makeup, tight pants and short coats.

In June 2014, lawmakers in parliament held a public debate about what was perceived to the problem of excessively tight women's leggings.

The announcement by Sajedinia was met with criticism online and protest by many Iranians inside and outside the country who termed the new vice squad as yet another act of state interference in people's lives.

"Big Brother is watching you," one Twitter user said.

"Too much security can bring insecurity," another Iranian wrote on social media.

"If I decide to leave Iran for one reason that's the hijab," another woman from Tehran wrote on Twitter.

Mizan Online, the judiciary news agency, also posted online photographs of members of the new unit. That prompted some social media users to ridicule the authorities, saying that Iran was likely the only country in the world where photographs of its undercover agents were available online.

Some said that the move went against campaign promises of more freedom and less state interference in people's lives by President Hassan Rohani.

Copyright (c) 2016 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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