Iranian shopkeepers and truck drivers 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 back up a senior’s claim. responsible that the morality police had been abolished.
Instead, Iranian newspapers reported an increase in patrols, especially in religious towns, forcing women to wear the hijab, and store managers being directed by the police to tighten hijab restrictions.
The confusion may in part be due to mixed messages sent by a divided regime as it seeks 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 vice police.
The shop strike’s show of force satisfied the protesters as it demonstrated that discontent with the government was still present in major cities like Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz and Shiraz. Iranian Kurdish rights group Hengaw reported that 19 towns had joined the strike movement in western Iran, where most of the country’s Kurdish population lives.
Political prisoners have called for support for the three-day protests. Posters also appeared in the streets demanding that the strike be respected.
Government officials continued to say the protests were over, but also admitted that many stores had been closed, blaming intimidation which they said would result in criminal charges.
Meanwhile, senior politicians including President Ebrahim Raisi and Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Qalibaf said they would visit universities in Tehran on Wednesday to discuss reforms with striking students, a tactic that has already backfired.
In a sign that the government is not relaxing hijab rules, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Monday that an amusement park in a Tehran mall had been shut down by a court because its operators were not wearing not properly the hijab.
The reform-leaning Ham-Mihan newspaper said the morality police had increased their presence in cities outside Tehran, where the force has been less active in recent weeks.
Controversy over whether the force had been shut down arose when Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was asked about the vice police at a conference, where he said: “The vice police manners has been closed where it has been installed”.
He added that they “had nothing to do with the judiciary” and that “the judiciary would continue to monitor behavioral actions at the community level.”
The official Iranian authorities have not yet formally reacted to the controversy. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was asked about the dissolution of the vice police during a visit to Serbia on Sunday, saying “In Iran everything is going well within the framework of democracy and freedom “.
A journalist from Tehran told the Guardian: “Security forces and police are all focused on suppressing protests, so they don’t have the resources to deal with women without veils. Orientation patrol in the form we used to see on the streets has completely disappeared and no longer exists. One of the days of protests in Tehran, I walked through the IRGC guards without a hijab. They just looked at me. Their looks were furious, but they had no further interaction.
She also added that the Basij paramilitary forces were still active at night, and probably more so outside Tehran.
In Rasht, a women’s rights activist says she hasn’t seen the so-called orientation patrols or the cars for the past two and a half months.