State and Treasury Departments sanction Iran’s Morality Police over 'systemic persecution of women'

State and Treasury Departments sanction Iran’s Morality Police over 'systemic persecution of women'
Image via Creative Commons.

In the United States, the term “Morality Police” is used as a slang expression to attack social conservatives and Christian fundamentalists who believe that their views on abortion, contraception or sex education should be the law of the land. But in Iran, there really is a religious police force whose name in the Farsi language translates to Morality Police — and they go about enforcing laws based on a severe, far-right, fundamentalist interpretation of Shi’ite (or Shia) Islam.

Recently in Tehran, a 22-year-old Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini died while in the custody of Iran’s Morality Police. And on Thursday, September 22, two government agencies in the United States — the State Department and the Treasury Department — announced sanctions against the Morality Police and other Iranian security officials.

According to Politico reporter Kelly Garrity, Amini “died while being held by authorities for allegedly violating the country’s strictly enforced dress code for women.”

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“Amini, whose death has sparked protests across Iran, was arrested September 13 for purportedly wearing a hijab too loosely,” Garrity explains in an article published on September 22. “Iranian officials claim Amini’s death at Kasra Hospital in northern Tehran three days after her arrest was the result of a heart attack, but hospital officials reported that Amini arrived with severe brain trauma caused by ‘multiple blows to the head.’”

Garrity adds, “In addition to the Morality Police, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions in a press release on seven senior leaders from a number of Iran’s security organizations, including the country’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Army’s Ground Forces, Basij Resistance Forces and Law Enforcement Forces, accusing them of ‘abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protestors.’”

Democrat Janet Yellen, secretary of the Treasury Department under President Joe Biden and former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, spoke publicly about the sanctions and Amini’s death.

Yellen, in an official statement, said, “Mahsa Amini was a courageous woman whose death in Morality Police custody was yet another act of brutality by the Iranian regime’s security forces against its own people. We condemn this unconscionable act in the strongest terms and call on the Iranian government to end its violence against women and its ongoing violent crackdown on free expression and assembly.”

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Iran, formerly Persia, didn’t always have an Islamic fundamentalist government or a law enforcement agency called the Morality Police. Under the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi during the 1950s and 1960s, Iran was known for a moderate, non-fundamentalist version of Islam and went out of its way to be friendly with the West — not unlike Turkey during that time. Although Pahlavi was a Muslim, he favored a secular form of government. But when a revolution occurred in 1979 and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power, Iran abandoned secularism and adopted a repressive Shi’ite version of strict Sharia law.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called out the Morality Police in a September 19 post on Twitter. Blinken wrote, “Mahsa Amini should be alive today. Instead, the United States and the Iranian people mourn her. We call on the Iranian government to end its systemic persecution of women and to allow peaceful protest.”

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