Iran’s vice squad in spotlight after woman’s death

The Gasht e Ershad, or lead patrols, are tasked with arresting anyone who violates Iran’s conservative dress code

The death of a young woman named Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s vice squad in Tehran has sparked national outrage.

Here are some facts about the morality police, known as Gasht e Ershad, or lead patrols, tasked with arresting people who flout Iran’s conservative dress code to “promote virtue and prevent vice.”

  • The Morality Police, affiliated with Iran’s law enforcement, is tasked with ensuring adherence to Islamic morality as described by the country’s top ecclesiastical authorities.
  • The typical unit consists of a van with a mixed male and female crew who patrol or wait in busy public places to monitor inappropriate behavior and dress.
  • Individuals apprehended by the vice squad either receive a notification or, in some cases, are taken to “correctional facilities” or a police station, where they are instructed on how to dress or behave morally before being released to their male relatives.
Demonstrations in Germany over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old arrested in Tehran last week for “unsuitable clothing”.
  • Fines are sometimes imposed, although there is no general rule about fines.
  • In Islam, hijab refers to what is considered modest clothing. Under Iranian Sharia, or Islamic law, women are required to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothing to hide their figure.
  • Decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, clerical rulers are still struggling to enforce the law. Many women of all ages and backgrounds wear tight-fitting, thigh-length coats and colorful scarves pushed back to reveal a lot of hair.
  • The Morale Police often consist of and are supported by the Basij, a paramilitary force originally mobilized in the 1980s for the Iran-Iraq war.
  • Basij are present at every Iranian university to monitor people’s clothing and behavior as higher education brings Iranian men and women together in a mixed educational environment for the first time.
Decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, clerical rulers are still struggling to enforce the law, with many women wearing brightly colored shawls being pushed back to bare lots of hair


  • The fight against the “bad hijab” is as old as the Islamic Revolution, which made conservative clothing for women one of its pillars.
  • In the early years of the revolution, the state gradually introduced rules to enforce the wearing of Islamic dress by women.
  • Spurred on by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s claims in favor of hijab after the Shah’s fall, revolutionaries took it upon themselves to impose their leader’s positions, attacking unveiled women in the streets and shouting, “Woman, wear a veil or eat my hand.”
  • Following several circulars from senior clergymen and ministers, unveiled women were banned from entering public buildings, and failure to wear the veil was punishable by 74 lashes under a 1983 law.
  • Iran’s revolutionary state struggled to control self-proclaimed elements like the Jundallah group, which patrolled the streets to “fight bad hijab,” and decided to institutionalize the amoral police.
  • Under reform-minded President Mohammad Khatami, state zeal to control dress and behavior in public spaces waned, but at the end of his term in office in 2005, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution passed a resolution entitled Strategies for Developing a Culture of Chastity.
  • Under Khatami’s successor, the ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Vice Police assumed their current Persian name Guidance Patrols (Gasht e Ershad) and increased their presence on the streets of Iran’s major cities.
  • The need for a vice squad was subsequently discussed in the 2009 presidential election, with reformist candidates calling for the force to be disbanded. So far, however, no action has been taken to remove the morality police from their sometimes heavy-handed crackdown, with many videos shared online.

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