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Iran's President Rouhani hits out at morality police

"Promoting virtue will not work through violence" said Rouhani [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 21 April, 2018

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Iran President Hassan Rouhani has criticised the country's morality police in a rare attack on the country's conservative establishment.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani criticised the country's morality police on Saturday, after a video showing a woman being violently assaulted for breaching the country's strict dress code emerged this week.

"Some say the way to promote virtue and prohibit vice is by going to the street and grabbing people by the neck," said Rouhani in a speech to government officials on state television.

"Promoting virtue will not work through violence," he added.

Mobile footage cropped up on Iranian social media on Thursday showing a female member of the morality police violently beating a woman for not covering her hair appropriately.

While Rouhani did not directly refer to the video, he alluded to it to criticise recent efforts to crack down on social media networks.

"Mobiles are the way to promote virtue and prohibit vice. I don't know why some people don't like mobile phones or social networks," he said.

"They don't like people having information. They think if people are in total ignorance, they can sleep better at night.

"Being informed is people's right... Criticism is people's right," he said. "Let people live their lives."

There is mounting pressure to block networks such as Telegram. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday he would stop using the popular messaging app and switch to a domestic provider.

Telegram is the most popular social media service in Iran with some 40 million users - roughly half the population. It was built by Russian tech guru Pavel Durov and offers end-to-end encryption, allowing users to keep the prying eyes of government away.

The application has been popular among activists and protesters critical of the Islamic Republic.

In his speech, however, Rouhani said that uncensored networks were vital to the economy, warning that the Islamic revolution of 1979 would ultimately be judged by the regime's behaviour towards its people.

"If our behaviour has gotten worse (since 1979), then this revolution is on the wrong path. The fundamental purpose of the revolution is to respect people and solve their problems," he said.

"Whatever we want to do, if we convince people rather than threaten them... we will succeed."

Since Rouhani came into power in 2013, the morality police have been far less visible. In December, Tehran's police chief claimed that there was a "softer" line being taken with emphasis on education rather than detention.

Despite that, thousands of cases are still brought against women for breaching clothing rules.

Around 7,000 undercover morality police were operating in the capital according to a former police chief in April 2016.

On Saturday, a reformist lawmaker also criticised the Revolutionary Guards for breaching the "religious and legal rights of defendants" of a group of environmentalists, denying them access to lawyers and families.

A number of environmentalists have been disappeared in recent months, including the suspicious death of one academic behind bars.

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