Iran regime invites people to turn in neighbours for 'moral crimes' via text message

Women could be reported for removing their headscarves, hosting mixed-gender parties, drinking alcohol, or posting anything 'immoral' to social media

Borzou Daragahi
International Correspondent
Tuesday 11 June 2019 18:25 BST
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Iran is to launch a text-messaging service to allow self-appointed guardians of morality in Tehran to turn in their neighbours or strangers for violating murky codes of public conduct, officials have said.

Iran’s judiciary has provided residents of the capital with a service to report “crimes against morality and public chastity” by text, according to the official Mizan news agency.

Meanwhile an interior ministry official, responding to public demands by hardliners, said Tehran’s police planned to provide a service to allow residents to inform the police on those they deem insufficiently obedient to public morality rules imposed by the country’s fundamentalist clergy.

“People would like to report those breaking the norms but they don’t know how,” Mohammad Mehdi Haj-Mohammadi, a judiciary spokesman, told Mizan. “We decided to accelerate dealing with instances of public immoral acts.”

Mizan, the official news platform for Iran’s judiciary, said the messaging service could be used for those to turn in women removing their Islamic headscarves in their vehicles, hosting mixed-gender parties, drinking alcohol, or posting anything “immoral” to social media.

The term “people”, when used by Iran’s hardliners, often refers to the tiny but vocal faction that make up the regime’s most strident supporters, and who are often beneficiaries of university placements, discount groceries and government posts. Iran’s leaders attempt to justify harsh control over social life by referring to both Islamic strictures and the public will.

The text-message scheme, first unveiled over the weekend, suggests the regime is attempting to intimidate its many domestic opponents, but also consolidate its support among the narrow sliver of extremists who comprise its shock troops. The country faces unprecedented pressure as United States sanctions begin to bite, and authorities may fear public disorder as the economy contracts.

Mahsa Alimardani, a researcher on the Iranian internet who works with the advocacy group Article 19 and the Oxford Internet Institute, said the new measures were likely to violate constitutional privacy protections and a newly formed draft data protection law, and predicted they would largely be ignored by ordinary Iranians.

She likened the text-message scheme to a European country encouraging its citizens to text police anytime they suspected someone was an Isis member.

“No one I know would go near such a ridiculous thing, but I assume some folks will get involved,” she said. “It’s definitely concerning, and signals a fear that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ‘morality’ norms have indeed failed to entrench themselves in society.”

Police in Tehran on Saturday also announced the closing of 547 restaurants and cafes following allegations of failing to observe “Islamic principles” with seven alleged violators arrested over the previous 10 days. Infractions included playing “illegal” music, debauchery, and “inappropriate” online advertising.

Iranian officials last week announced a scheme to hire 2,000 female police officers in the Caspian Sea province of Gilan to crack down on women removing their headscarves in public, in an 18-month campaign of defiance inspired by the New York-based Iranian exile and activist Masih Alinejad.

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