youhe operations of Iran’s “morality police” have been effectively suspended, a senior official said, after months of widespread anti-government protests over the death of a young woman in their custody.
Officially called the Orientation Patrol, the police unit has for years stalked major intersections and thoroughfares in Iranian cities, arresting those it determined were violating the Islamic Republic’s strict religious dress codes. The patrol cars appeared to disappear from the streets of Tehran shortly after nationwide protests broke out in mid-September over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who slipped into a coma after being detained for her clothing.
“The Orientation Patrol has nothing to do with the Judiciary; he was suspended by the same institution that trained him in the past,” the semi-official Iranian labor news agency reported, citing chief prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri.
read more: What you need to know about the Iranian protests over the death of Mahsa Amini
The comments, which do not amount to an official dissolution of the unit, follow deadly riots and protests that have challenged Iran’s theocratic leadership on a scale not seen since they took power after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Montazeri’s statement is unlikely to represent a major shift in policy and did not address protesters’ demands to scrap mandatory religious dress codes altogether, or address a broad list of grievances related to civil liberties, governance and The rule of law.
With mandates on how women must dress still in place, the removal of the Orienteering Patrol also raises questions about how the rules will be enforced and whether an alternative system will emerge.
In a sign that the regulation of public life will not necessarily be relaxed, Montazeri said that “of course, the judiciary continues to monitor behavior in the community.”
In separate comments published in the moderate Shargh newspaper on Saturday, Montazeri said the judiciary was working on a draft proposal for amendments on how laws “pertaining to chastity and hijab” should be enforced, referring to the Arabic word used to describe religious modesty codes. .
“Following the recent events, the relevant bodies are looking for a prudent solution,” he said, adding that Iran’s parliament and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution plan to reach a decision on how to move forward within 15 days.
According to human rights groups, more than 400 people have been killed by security forces in the protests, including dozens of children. The United Nations said last month that more than 14,000 people have so far been arrested for participating and many are charged with serious crimes carrying the death penalty.
read more: What the success of the women-led protests tells us about the future of Iran
Since 2006, the Orienteering Patrol’s green and white minivans have regularly roamed the busy streets, especially during the summer months, arresting passers-by, mostly young women, deemed not to be properly dressed.
Amini’s death sparked a public outcry, and many women began to publicly reject or destroy the headscarves that have been compulsory for them since childhood. Many women are now seen in public in the more liberal enclaves of northern Tehran without covering their heads.
Iranian officials have repeatedly accused foreign countries, including the United States, of instigating the unrest and have vowed to continue their strong crackdown on protesters.
Last month, the United Nations said it would investigate Iran for human rights violations and called on the Islamic Republic to immediately end its attacks on protesters.
More TIME must-reads