Iran’s Rouhani asserts ‘human dignity’ over authority of new ‘Morality Police’

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is questioning the authority of the 7,000 undercover “Morality Police” who are tasked with reporting women for not wearing a full Islamic hijab and citizens who play loud music in their cars.

Rouhani said such decisions should not be made by the government.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. /AFP/Getty Images
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. /AFP/Getty Images

“Our first duty is to respect people’s dignity and personality. God has bestowed dignity to all human beings and this dignity precedes religion,” Rouhani said, according to a report by ISNA news agency on April 19.

Though they do not have the authority to make arrests, the 7,000 men and women in the new “Morality Police” unit began reporting violations in Teheran on April 18. The reports are made by text message to police headquarters and violators can face prison sentences.

Many of the young Iranians who helped get him elected hoped that Rouhani’s presidency would be accompanied by an easing of cultural restrictions.

Teheran’s hardliners, however, have moved to block any relaxation of the country’s social rules, warning of the “infiltration” of Western culture. They harshly criticized Rouhani last year for saying the police should enforce the law rather than Islam.

Iranian police are part of the armed forces and supervised by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but the government has a say in their policies through the Interior Ministry.

Rouhani has disagreed with strict Islamic rules. In 2014, he said “you can’t send people to heaven by the whip,” a comment that brought condemnation from Khamenei.