“The morality police had nothing to do with the Judiciary and the same institution that established it, has now abolished it,” Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying at a religious event by the semi-official news agencies ISNA and ILNA, as well as by several other media outlets.
Montazeri, who is not responsible for overseeing the morality police in his role as attorney general, added that the “the judiciary will continue to supervise social behaviors.”
It was unclear if he meant the morality police would be abolished for good or that they would return in some form.
Montazeri's brief and unscripted comment came in response to a question about “why the morality police were being shut down,” the outlets reported.
NBC News cannot independently verify his comments.
Iran’s Interior Ministry and police have not commented on the status of the morality police.
Official state media outlets that attended the event did not report on Montazeri’s comments, signaling that they were not sanctioned by the political establishment.
Iran has been gripped by months of protests, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old from Iran’s Kurdistan region, who died in the hospital three days after she had been detained by the morality police in September.
Amini had allegedly failed to fully cover her hair and defied the country’s strict dress codes when she was arrested in Iran’s capital, Tehran.
A coroner’s report said in October that Amini had died from multiple organ failure and ruled out blows to the head and body as a cause of her death. Police had said Amini died after she fell ill and slipped into a coma, but her family has said witnesses told them officers beat her. Police have denied this allegation.
After her death, young protesters took to the streets, tearing off their hijabs and desecrating symbols of the Islamic Republic. With women and young girls at the forefront, videos appeared on social media of many of them removing and burning their headscarves and cutting their hair in public, in open defiance of the cleric-run Islamic Republic.
Demands for women's rights later morphed into wider calls to overthrow the regime, posing one of the most serious challenges to the Iranian government since the 1979 revolution. Some have chanted slogans against the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Ebrahim Raisi.
The government has blamed what it calls “foreign enemies” for stoking the unrest.
Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the aerospace division of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, was quoted late last month by a website close to the Guard as saying that more than 300 people have been killed, including “martyrs,” an apparent reference to security forces.
Human Rights Activists in Iran, a U.S.-based rights group said in a tweet Saturday that at least 470 protestors have been killed and over 18,000 have been detained so far.
NBC News cannot independently verify either figure.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised the “extraordinary courage” of Iranian women for “standing up, speaking up, speaking out for their basic rights,” in an interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell late last month.
Meanwhile, the state-run IRNA news agency reported Sunday, that authorities executed four people accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency on Sunday. Three others received lengthy prison sentences.
Members of the network stole and destroyed private and public property and kidnapped individuals and interrogated them, according to the report. It said the alleged spies had weapons and received wages from Mossad in the form of cryptocurrency.
IRNA identified the executed prisoners as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi. Three other members of the group received sentences of five to 10 years in prison, the news agency reported.
NBC News has not been able to verify this report.