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‘Just a distraction’: SF activists react to reports Iran will close its morality police

Thousands of protesters converge into Union Square in San Francisco for a Freedom Rally for Iran on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. | Chris Victorio for The Standard

Iranian activists want regime change in their native country, not incremental reform, local organizers said after news broke this morning that Iran will shutter its infamous morality police.

On its face, closing Iran’s morality police, which enforces the rigid dress code imposed upon women in the country, sounds like cause for celebration for the Iranian diaspora in the U.S. Instead, SF organizers are skeptical that the morality police are really going away. Even if they are, many view the move as a cynical tactic by the Iranian government to create positive publicity in the West rather than meaningfully meet protestor demands that the theocracy steps down altogether.

“The morality police aren’t the source of the problem, this regime has been killing and raping people and its back’s in a corner right now,” said Sanna Nour, a San Franciscan whose parents immigrated from Iran and who runs an activist Instagram account with her sister called Persians With Purpose.

Nour said the announcement is simply Iran’s government trying to signal to the world that it’s “reformable” with the release of this news. But she believes the Islamic leadership that has been committing such violent acts for 40 years isn’t capable of reform. 

Nour won’t be happy until the current government steps down.

Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution commending Iranian protests and condemning the state's human rights abuses.

“The brave protesters standing up for freedom and democracy in Iran will continue to fight,” Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who sponsored the resolution and was born in Iran, wrote in a text message. “The alleged suspension of the morality police is a small but necessary change but so much more is needed.”

Massive protests erupted across Iran, and the world—including several in the Bay Area—after a young woman named Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police. While the actions of the morality police sparked the protests, the movement has grown to embody far more than criticism of that specific body, explained San Francisco Iranian community organizer Farnaz Dadashi.

“We’re past the morality police being a focal point,” said Dadashi, a founding member of the Iranian Diaspora Collective. “We believe this headline is just a distraction from the bigger picture, systematic issue of oppression of women in Iran.”

The news is intended to get the Iranian diaspora to settle down and stop protesting, Dadashi believes. “We won’t get distracted,” she said.

Over 1,000 people gathered in the pouring rain in Oakland yesterday to protest the Iranian government, a representative of the activist group Bay Area for Iran, estimated. The group has organized rallies every Saturday for months and has no plans to stop.

Local activists are still furious about the brutality of the Iranian government throughout the protests. Security forces have killed unarmed demonstrators and bystanders; a conservative estimate of the death toll in the country is over 300, including at least 40 children, and around 14,000 people have been arrested in the context of the protests, according to a recent U.N. report. Iranian security forces also use rape to quell protests, a CNN investigation found.

Meanwhile, Iran’s mandatory hijab law remains in effect, although the policy is apparently under review, according to reports on statements from the country’s attorney general. Iranian state media has pushed back on the reports that the morality police will be abolished, according to CNN, and prominent experts on the country have expressed similar skepticism.

Noah Baustin can be reached at