(NEW YORK) — Iran’s “morality police,” are again patrolling the streets to enforce the country’s compulsory hijab law, nearly a year after widespread protests erupted following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody.
The controversial measure was announced Sunday along with a series of other severe actions that are being taken against women, Iranian authorities said.
Amini was on a trip to Tehran last September when the morality police arrested her for not wearing “proper hijab.” She was taken into custody only to be announced dead at a hospital three days later, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.
Her death sparked protests among women who risked their lives by ripping off their hijabs and cutting their hair in public. Iran Human Rights reported that at least 537 people were killed in the ensuing protests and at least 22,000 people were arrested, with IRNA confirming the number of arrests.
A 33-year-old singer from Tehran, who asked not to be identified by name because she fears retribution from local authorities, spoke to ABC News podcast START HERE about the morality police’s return and her hope that people will continue to keep up the pressure and protect one another.
BRAD MIELKE: So with that in mind, without your name, what can you tell me about who you are and where you are?
IRANIAN WOMAN: I’m 33 now. I’m from Tehran. I live in Tehran. I’m a singer. I cannot sing. I am not approved to have a concert. So this information can harm you. That’s why I cannot totally talk about myself easily, and I’m sorry about that.
MIELKE: That’s totally understandable. Can you explain the morality police to an American? We think of – there are police in uniforms and they enforce the law, but the morality police sound very different in certain ways. Can you just explain what they do, who they are and how they act?
WOMAN: Sure. They have the, you know, dress code – such as police. And may I ask you a question? Do you have a wife? A girlfriend?
MIELKE: Yes. Yeah. I’m married. A wife, yeah.
WOMAN: Oh, good, good. Bless you. Imagine that you’re walking with your wife in the street, going to shop some shoes for her. And in the entrance of a mall, there are two people standing with a very nasty style. They have, you know, crossed eyebrows. They are looking at you like they want to kill you and they ask your wife to come here. [They say,] ‘Why are you wearing that? Why are your hair out? Don’t do that. Don’t do this. OK, come with me. I will make sure that you are punished.’
MIELKE: I see, wow. And they have the impunity as they see fit, essentially?
WOMAN: Yeah. Believe me, they will attack you somehow. This is a horror movie. I cannot explain it to you.
MIELKE: In recent years, like after the death of Mahsa Amini, what was it like in Iran? How did life change?
WOMAN: It has changed everything. At the day when I saw the news and saw the girl falling down and that brutal – “Vozaro,” we call it “Vozaro” – morality police office, I hated them. I wanted to kill someone, because they have done something terrible to her – a very, very good girl who was so much better than me in their attitude.
MIELKE: You’re saying like, she was even more obedient than you. And they’re still doing terrible things.
WOMAN: Yes, sure, sure. She was an idol for them. Just look at the streets now. She was idol of hijab in comparison with the way we dress now, and that was their mistake. After that, everything changed. We are on the streets. We participated everywhere. People just called for help and I got beaten. My family got beaten. They’re fighting, because they know that always there is the threat of being arrested, being tortured, being raped in the prison. But they stood – we stood together. I walk close to a girl who is not wearing hijab, because I want her to feel safe. The other girl does it for me.
MIELKE: I see. So you had this collective unwillingness to wear the hijab. People have been openly defying these laws and, frankly, the authorities have seemed fearful of cracking down too hard. But then in the last week, they came out and they said in a statement they will be enforcing things more harshly. Have you seen that play out yourself?
WOMAN: On the subway, you cannot get on easily, because they have two policemen and they’re standing in the entrance of the subway. They shout. They try to scare you to obey the rule of hijab. But I myself didn’t pay attention to them. They followed me. I ran and blah, blah, blah, blah.
MIELKE: So you were not wearing a hijab on the subway and these men –
WOMAN: No, I’m not wearing hijab anywhere.
MIELKE: Right, and these men see you and then follow you and shout at you?
WOMAN: Yeah, yeah. If they get you, they make sure that you are beaten up and you are arrested. And I’m not going to mention the other stuff. They do this to make the fear in the society. But the thing is, beneath that skin is that we are too much. They are afraid. They know that they cannot attack me as one person, one individual. If they attack me, the society will, you know, interfere and maybe they will be beaten up.
MIELKE: Like you’re saying, when police now grab one woman at a time, other people might stand up for that woman?
WOMAN: Yes, yes. It is really possible. This is a big possibility.
MIELKE: And is that different from a year or two or five years ago?
WOMAN: Yes, sure. Believe me, this would never happen those days. People help each other. We didn’t believe that we can help each other, but nowadays we do. We do. And, you know, they fear. They have the fear. My husband has been bitten by the bullet, because of helping a woman.
MIELKE: Bitten by the bullet. He was shot for helping a woman?
WOMAN: Yes, yes, but he is OK.
WOMAN: Yeah, he is OK now, but that is true. He was talking and then he saw someone grabbing a little girl in that way of, you know, nasty touching and stuff to get her to somewhere that she might not get back safe. He didn’t think of anything. He just interfered. And we help each other these days.
MIELKE: So it seems like the Iranian authorities are trying to reassert the control they have, but it sounds like you’re saying, the people in Iran are forever changed. Like, you guys are not going back to that system the way it looked before.
WOMAN: Yes, sure, sure. You know, if an animal fears about something. For example, a cat fears of something, it tries to show teeth to the thing. They are doing that. They are fearful. They are shaking to the bones of us being together. So, what is the solution for them? Being more brutal. They try to put more pressure on us. Just today, a very big online shop like Amazon has been shut down because their staff, they’re not wearing hijab.
So look, nothing is going right for them. We are continuing, because this is the way that has no turning back. We have to stick to it. If we let the rope loose, they will kill us all.
MIELKE: Wow, if you loosen the rope, they will kill us all. If you release that pressure, then they’ll just make it even worse. Really powerful. Thank you so much for telling us your story, and thank you for being with us. And thank you for your bravery.
WOMAN: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. That is a great feeling, when you feel you are imprisoned in a country, but someone else, someone out there is thinking about you and concerned about you. Thank you so much. Thanks, America.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.