Iranian youth get app to dodge morality police



Courtesy BBC

An anonymous team of Iranian app developers have come to the rescue of young fashion conscious Iranians by helping them avoid the country’s notorious morality police known as “Ershad” or guidance.

The new app called ‘Gershad’ will alert users to Ershad checkpoints and help them to avoid them by choosing a different route. Ershad’s mobile checkpoints which usually consist of a van, a few men and one or two women, are deployed in towns across Iran and appear with no notice.

“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”, wrote one of the creators on their Facebook page.

Another added, “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.”

iranian1Gershad, a play on the Persian word Ershad, or “guidance,” translated roughly to “getting around the guidance patrol”, gave Iranian women a short-lived chance to wear what they wanted without worrying about getting stopped on Monday, until it was blocked by Iranian authorities on Tuesday.

It works by plotting the location of morality police checkpoints on maps of different Iranian cities. After enough users report seeing morality police at the same location, a cartoonish icon of a morality officer pops up on the map, alerting users of places they may want to avoid.

The app, free for Android users on Google’s app store, had over a 1,000 downloads and had received hundreds of five-star ratings and positive reviews in just one day.

An Iranian human rights group reported they were taking steps to get the app back online.

The morality police in Iran had been employed since 1981 to make sure women followed a modest dress code. What is considered as immodest is entirely up to the morality police that can land liberal-minded Iranian women into serious trouble. Each year, millions of Iranian women are stopped on the street and told they need to cover up more of their hair or change into longer, looser fitting clothes. According to the developers of Gershad, 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 in 2014.

Some of the guidelines followed for the conservative dress code include ensuring that there is no hair peeking out of a headscarf, or that flashy nail polish is not worn by women.

The issue is a very popular one amongst voters and as a result, had reached President Hassan Rouhani, who had promised during his campaign in 2013 to rein in the morality police.  However, since no action has been taken by Rouhani, Gershad’s creators evidently took this matter into their own hands to expand social freedoms.