This week, Iranian authorities arrested around 150 people at a birthday party for demonstrating “un-Islamic” behavior, state-run media reported.
“We had received information some time ago about a mixed party in a garden in the west of Tehran,” senior Tehran police commander Mohsen Khancherli told the Tasnim news agency. “This garden was next door to an illegal music recording studio where about 150 boys and girls had gathered for a birthday party.”
While a mixed gender birthday party is a relatively commonplace — and non-criminal — affair elsewhere, in Iran morality police enforce laws meant to uphold “Islamic values,” thus barring men and women from socializing with members of the opposite sex. If found in violation, Iranian men and women face fines or lashings.
Currently represented by the Gashte Ershad (Persian for Guidance Patrols), some iteration of the morality police has been in place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Crackdowns — which moderate Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly condemned — are especially severe during the summer, when more people are outside and sweltering conditions may cause some to abandon the strictures of state-mandated dress code. Similar morality police exist in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia.
In April, Iranian authorities took things one step further when they announced the launch of a plainclothes division of the morality police, consisting of 7,000 men and women — the largest undercover assignment in memory, according to the Times of Israel.
Proponents say that a plainclothes division is a step in the right direction, as uniformed police made it too easy for malefactors to evade punishment.
“The police are thinking about a more precise, more effective and more functional method since the previous open method did not bear fruit,” conservative parliamentarian Fatemeh Rahbar told the Times.
Authorities said the plainclothes division would primarily patrol Tehran’s streets, but some in Tehran believe its primary purpose is meant to impose a silencing force on younger populations abandoning the rigidity of “Islamic” codes of dress and behavior.
Lately, young women in Iran have taken a more casual approach to the so-called Islamic dress code, swapping chadors for dresses, tighter clothing, and headscarves — a move some think the state wants to squash as it represents disrespect for and abandonment of the Islamic Republic’s ideology.
“The clerical regime has never been so isolated at home and loathed by the Iranian people, in particular by the youth and women,” Shahin Gobadi of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran said. “As such, it is resorting to more and more repressive measures to confront this growing trend.”