Iran has not abolished morality police

New York Times’ initial report led to explosion of false and misleading reports

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Claim: The Islamic Republic of Iran has abolished the Guidance Patrol — commonly referred to as the  “morality police” — in response to months of protests that erupted after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old girl, allegedly in custody.

Fact: The claim is false as the authorities in Iran themselves denied that such a development occurred. Prosecutor General Mohamed Jafar Montazeri, to whom the announcement of a decision to abolish the morality police was attributed, only said the Guidance Patrol is the business of the police not the judiciary.

On 4 December 2022, The New York Times published a story titled, “Iran Abolishes Morality Police After Months of Protests.”

Many Iranian activists and protesters, as well as journalists, raised concerns about the veracity of The New York Times report, saying it was “not accurate” and “not true” and some called the news “a lie”, “a PR stunt”, and “disinformation.”

The The New York Times subsequently revised its headline at least twice, changing it first to “Iran Shutting Down Morality Police, Official Says, After Months of Protests” and then “Iran Has Abolished Morality Police, an Official Suggests, After Months of Protests.”

The report came amid unprecedented protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after being detained by Iran’s so-called ‘morality police’ for allegedly breaking the national dress code for women. According to Amini’s family, her death was caused by police brutality while in custody.

As the demonstrations continued, Iran Attorney-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri addressed a press conference. In response to a question as to why the morality police did not seem to be around anymore, the country’s top prosecutor said the Guidance Patrol was the business of the police, not the judiciary.

According to Iranian author Arash Azizi, the cops “launched it [the Patrol] and they shut it themselves” but the “Judiciary would still monitor ‘behaviour in society’”.

Fact or Fiction?

Soch Fact Check spoke to CBC Radio journalist and producer Samira Mohyeddin, who was one of the first to counter the claim made in the The New York Times report.

Mohyeddin provided a link to an Etemad Online (اعتمادآنلاین) article and wrote, “Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, Islamic Republic’s attorney general, denies news that morality police is to be abolished. ‘No official authority in Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the closure of morality police.’”

The Etemad Online article in Persian (left) and English (right)

Etemad Online wrote that Seda va Sima, or the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, has denied reports that the Gasht-e-Ershad — Guidance Patrol or the morality police — has been abolished.

It quoted the Iranian state-owned Alalam News Network, which comes under the Seda va Sima, as saying, “No official in the Islamic Republic of Iran has confirmed the issue of the Ershad patrol [Guidance Patrol] being closed.”

Mohyeddin told Soch Fact Check that the Alalam News Network and the Seda va Sima are both state-owned networks and that the reports were based on Jafar Montazeri’s statement during the press conference.

Apart from Mohyeddin, many others refuted the NYT report and urged social media users not to spread false claims — some of these Twitter threads may be read, here, here, here, here, and here.

Twitter subsequently added a notice to the tweet by The New York Times’ official account after the publication’s story was flagged repeatedly.

Screenshots of The New York Times’ article shared on the publication’s verified social media accounts

The notice reads, “Iran has not ‘abolished’ the morality police. The title of this article is misleading and disinformation. Iran’s regime media is also denying the morality police has been ‘abolished.’”

Virality

Soch Fact Check found multiple Facebook posts carrying the false news, including here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The The New York Times’ deputy managing editor, Clifford Levy, also tweeted the article.

In India, News 18, India Today, Hindustan Times, NDTV, Times of India, WION, Economic Times, The Hindu, Times Now News, Republic World, Scroll.in, Clarion India, OpIndia, and Hauterrfly reported on the story, whereas, in Pakistan, Geo News, Dawn, Arab News, The News, Mashriq TV, Express Tribune, Global Village Space, Samaa, The Correspondent, Dialogue Pakistan did so.

Other outlets around the world also reported the story, including here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Soch Fact Check conducted a CrowdTangle analysis for the 30-day period from 28 November 2022 to 28 December using the search term, “Iran Abolishes Morality Police After Months of Protests.”

The search turned up 210 Facebook posts and 29 Instagram posts, which gained 38,131 interactions and 163,126 interactions, respectively.

Conclusion: The claim is false as the authorities in Iran themselves have denied that the morality police — officially the Guidance Patrol — has been abolished. Prosecutor General Mohamed Jafar Montazeri, to whom the announcement of a decision to abolish the ‘morality’ police was being attributed, only linked the Guidance Patrol to police and distanced the judiciary from it.


Background image in cover photo: Artin Bakhan

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