A range of punishments face ‘inappropriately dressed’ young Iranians who fall foul of Iran’s notorious ‘morality police’, known in Persian as ‘Ershad’.
Ershad personnel, according to this report, have a very extensive list of powers. These range from issuing warnings and forcing those they accuse of violating Iran’s Islamic code of conduct to make a written statement pledging to never do so again, to fines or even prosecuting offenders.
The new phone app which is called “Gershad” (probably meaning get around Ershad instead of facing them), will alert users to checkpoints and help them to avoid them by choosing a different route.
The data for the app is crowdsourced. It relies on users to point out the location of the Ershad vans on maps and when a sufficient number of users point out the same point, an alert will show up on the map for other users. When the number decreases, the alert will fade gradually from the map.
In a statement on their web page the app’s developers explain their motives in this way:
Why do we have to be humiliated for our most obvious right which is the right to wear what we want? Social media networks and websites are full of footage and photos of innocent women who have been beaten up and dragged on the ground by the Ershad patrol agents.
Police need to provide security for the citizens not to turn into a factor for fear. A while ago, angry with such unreasonable oppressions, we looked for a solution to find a practical way to resist the volume of injustices peacefully with low risk level, to restore part of our freedom.
The app has rapidly become a hot topic on Iranian social media, with users generally welcoming it as an innovative way to avoid a potentially unpleasant encounter with the guardians of national virtue.
Ershad’s mobile checkpoints which usually consist of a van, a few bearded men and one or two women in black chadors, are deployed in towns across Iran and appear with no notice.
According to the designers of Gershad, in 2014 alone, around three million people were issued with official warnings, 18,000 were prosecuted and more than 200,000 were made to write formal pledges of repentance.
The range of offences which Ershad patrols deal with are extensive – from wearing too much makeup in public to wearing too little Hijab or head cover for women, to what is called Western influenced hair styles and trendy clothing for men.
Just exactly what amounts to immoral dress can be widely open to the interpretation of Ershad agents. Buying one’s clothes and or makeup from authorised shops won’t necessarily keep you out of trouble. If an Ershad agent sees the combination unfit according the Sharia code of conduct, one can still end up being warned or even prosecuted.
If the app lives up to the claims made for it, Gershad will be a lifesaver for the growing numbers of young Iranians who are pushing the boundaries of what is allowed and finding themselves on the wrong side of what an Ershad agent sees as acceptable.