Thursday , 30 May 2024

This Is What It’s Like To Be Detained By Iran’s Dreaded Morality Police

RFL/RE – Scores of women have been detained in Iran in recent weeks for not wearing the mandatory Islamic head scarf, as authorities intensify their enforcement of the country’s controversial hijab law and crack down on alleged violators.

It’s an issue that was at the heart of unprecedented protests that rocked Iran in 2022.

Homa (not her real name), a 42-year-old mother of two, spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda about what it’s like to be swept up in the crackdown. This is her account.

‘Dragged Me In’

I was returning from my mother’s home and had done some shopping. I was holding the shopping bags in one hand and the keys in the other to open my door. My head scarf had slipped down.

[A man] on a motorcycle drove by and said, “Lady, put your head scarf back up.” I said, “no.’” He asked again but I ignored him. He then pulled out his phone and took a photo of me. Immediately, a morality police van pulled up.

The motorcyclist, the van driver, and two women came toward me. I asked them to at least let me put my shopping inside, but they told me to take everything with me. I told them it’s not like you’ve caught a thief. If I didn’t enter the van, they would have most likely dragged me in.

I think there were eight people inside the van, including me. There was no space so I sat on an armrest. Besides me and another woman who was also above 40, everyone else was young. There was a mother and daughter who said they had been eating in a restaurant when they were detained. They weren’t even allowed to finish their food.

‘Tried To Scare Us’

They took us to the police station. We got off the van and were escorted to a hall where they lined us all up against a wall. They took a group photo and told us to sit and wait outside a room.

In the meantime, a couple of female university students were crying. [An officer] told them not to worry because their detention would not appear on their criminal record.

In the room, three men and a woman were sitting behind a desk. They gave me a document to sign. I told them that I wanted to read it first. The form said I had removed my head scarf and acted against public modesty. I read it with contempt, laughed, signed it, and stamped it with my fingerprint.

Then they said I needed a guarantor. I said I’m old enough and can vouch for myself. They refused and insisted that my husband, father, mother, or family member had to come down to the station. They also said I had to hand over my identification documents and appear in court the next day.

All the officers were sarcastic and tried to scare us. There was a girl who asked to see the photo they had taken of her [when she was detained]. An officer turned around and mockingly said, “We’re going to make it your profile picture [in our system.]” All of the officers were under 30.

‘Probably Do It Again’

We went to the court. There were a lot of people there who had been detained the day before. There were about 15 women. Many were there because their cars had been impounded [as punishment] for not wearing the hijab. My car has been impounded two times.

We waited a long time in the corridor [before entering the courtroom]. The staff were laughing. The young university students were all scared.

Once a person’s casefile was entered in the system, they were given a code and sent to see the judge. It was packed outside the judge’s chambers. Some of the women were complaining that the process was taking too long. The judge’s secretary was processing some of the cases himself.

In some cases, the judge’s secretary filled people’s forms himself. He wrote phrases like “I’m regretful and won’t do it again,” and told the [women] to just sign it. I told the judge’s secretary not to write that I was regretful because I wasn’t and would probably do it again.

I was not fined. But the university students were given another document to sign. I caught a glimpse and saw the figure 5,000,000 rials [$8].

‘Pressure Is Intensifying’

The pressure is intensifying. They are forcing fathers, brothers, the whole family, even mothers, to make women wear the hijab.

A friend told me that she had asked a friend of hers in law enforcement to explain how she kept getting fines despite living and working in a place with no security cameras.

The police friend said they have people on the streets who, when they spot a woman without a head scarf, follow her to her car and jot down the plate number.

*This account has been edited for length and clarity.
Written by Kian Sharifi based on an interview by Roya Maleki of RFE/RL’s Radio Farda. Illustrated by Juan Carlos Herrera.
  • Roya MalekiRoya Maleki is a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.