One of the more notorious images that often comes out of Iran is that of chador-clad women with police armbands and male police officers rounding up loosely veiled, and often young, women into minivans to be taken to police stations. These officers, known as Gasht-e Ershad, or Guidance Patrol, roam busy avenues, especially during the summer, and are often seen harassing young couples or groups of women. Now, according to statements by Iranian officials, these scenes are to be no more.
On Dec. 27, Brig. Gen. Hossein Rahimi, head of Greater Tehran police, said, “According to the commander of the NAJA [Law Enforcement Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran], those who do not observe Islamic values and have negligence in this area will no longer be taken to detention centers, a legal case will not be made for them and we will not send them to court; rather, education classes to reform their behavior will be offered.”
Instead of rounding up young women, it appears Iranian police will be sending those who they deem are insufficiently following Islamic norms to a sort of traffic school for hijab and other Islamic values. Rahimi said 121 of these education classes have been held this year, with 7,900 in attendance.
While some Western media outlets focus on the aspect of veiling, it is possible that the term “Islamic values” will be more wide-reaching, as Tehran police are attempting to change their approach toward enforcement of social and religious values. “In addition to promoting security, the police will also be taking social measures to reform the behavior of citizens and reduce infractions and crimes,” Rahimi said. He added that 100 advisory centers have been set up in the capital and, in the last nine months, 62,000 cases were resolved before ever going to court.
The cases mentioned above are likely for minor crimes. Rahimi made clear that the police would not have a soft approach toward more serious crimes. “I should say that under no conditions will we compromise with people who disturb society,” he said.
Rahimi was appointed in August, and it seems clear that authorities in Tehran are trying a new approach to differentiate between the breaking of religious norms and the more serious cases of crime taking place in one of the largest capitals in the world. On Dec. 10, Mohammad Reza Yazdi, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), announced the formation of a special unit within the IRGC and Basij Organization, which operates under the IRGC. According to Yazdi, this special unit, consisting of IRGC and Basij members, would be assigned to cases of theft and to small-time drug dealers and users, who authorities call “thugs.”
The news about a new approach toward the issue of veiling received a lukewarm response by Iranian media and was largely ignored by conservative media. Reformist Shargh Daily asked whether the statements by Rahimi will usher forth the “end of the Guidance Patrol?” The article itself did not offer a prediction on the question but rather printed Rahimi’s comments.