There is uncertainty over the status of Iran’s morality police, which enforces its dress code, after a senior official suggested it had been disbanded.
When asked about the Guidance Patrol at a conference, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said they “have been shut down from where they were set up”.
However, the government did not confirm the move and local media reported that his remarks had been “misinterpreted”.
The death of a woman detained by the force has sparked nationwide protests. Mahsa Amini, 22, collapsed and fell into a coma shortly after being arrested in Tehran on September 13 for allegedly violating the rule requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab, or headscarf.
There were reports that morality police officers beat her head with a baton. The police said she suffered a heart attack.
Anti-government protests – labelled “riots” by Iranian authorities – swept across Iran after Ms Amini died in hospital on September 16.
But while her death was the catalyst for the unrest, it has also been driven by long-standing discontent over poverty, unemployment, inequality, injustice and corruption.
Iran has had various forms of “morality police” since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but the latest version – known formally as the Guidance Patrol (Gasht-e Ershad) – is currently the main agency tasked enforcing Iran’s Islamic code of conduct.
They began their patrols in 2006 to enforce the dress code which also requires women to wear long clothes and forbid shorts, ripped jeans and other clothes deemed immodest. Mr Montazeri was at a religious conference when he was asked about the Guidance Patrol.
“The morality police had nothing to do with the judiciary and have been shut down from where they were set up,” he said.
However, he stressed that the judiciary would continue “to monitor behavioural actions at the community level”.
The Guidance Patrol is part of the national police force and control lies with the Interior Ministry and not with the Judiciary.
After the BBC and other foreign media picked up the Attorney General’s statement, some Iranian state media outlets pushed back on the morality police had been disbanded. -BBC