In this Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, protesters make fire and block the street during a protest over the death of a woman who was detained by the morality

‘We’re done’: A new generation of Iranians are using this app to track the country’s morality police

The mapping app Gershad, launched in 2016, allows people in Iran — primarily women — to mark the location of the country’s morality police so that others can avoid them. Human rights activist and app co-founder Firuzeh Mahmoudi joined The World’s host Marco Werman to talk about the app amid current protests.

The World

In Iran, a phone app called Gershad is in huge demand right now. The mapping app, launched in 2016, allows people in Iran, primarily women, to mark the location of the country’s morality police. That way, other people can avoid them.

Protests sparked by the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody are not letting up in Iran. Amini was stopped by the morality police for not wearing her hijab properly.

Now, the app has been updated to also include the location of riot police. The app currently has over 10,000 users, according to its website. 

Firuzeh Mahmoudi, one of the founders of the app, is also the executive director of the human rights group United for Iran. She joined The World’s host Marco Werman from San Francisco to tell us more about the app and the uprising taking place in the country now. 

Marco Werman: Tell us a little bit more about how the Gershad app actually works here.
Firuzeh Mahmoudi: So, it essentially allows users to report and view the location of the morality police throughout the country.
Right. So, it’s crowdsourced and then, wherever those forces are, there’s a pin drop, that kind of thing?
Exactly. And if multiple users use the same point near the same area, they get all clumped together. And users can only report if they’re within a 500-meter vicinity of a location to avoid spamming by government officials. 
I mean, we hear a lot about the morality police. That’s actually shorthand for a much longer title. Who are they exactly? 
The morality police were created under President Ahmadinejad. Essentially, their role is to ensure that that people are being proper, they’re using their hijab properly, and they stop — 90% of who they stop are women — and it’s essentially one of the government’s arms to oppress people, using this ideology. And the hijab is a physical thing, but it’s much more than that. It’s a tool of oppression, to oppress half of the population. And that’s the identity by which the Islamic Republic has built its name on.
I’d like you to help us understand what it’s like to live with the morality police around you all the time. I know you were once arrested by the morality police. Tell us about that experience.
I left Iran when I was 12. My mother could not leave. So, I went back to Iran when I was 16 and I was arrested quite briefly, five hours. My mom and me and my sister, we all went together because they did not want me to go in alone. I had to sign that next time I would get 50 lashes and then we were released. It’s horrifying, the idea of “getting 50 lashes next time.” I was worried I was not going to be able to leave the country because I have a bit of an accent in Farsi. But that is nothing compared to what Iranian women face and fear every day. They don’t have body autonomy, like they cannot just go out as they wish. The control and the power is not just on their physical body, but its permeates their emotions, their spirit, everything. It’s their entire body — being oppressed.
When you think about what is happening in Iran right now, what occurs to you? What occurs to you about right now and the future?
It’s heartbreaking to see millions and millions of people oppressed and being forced to lead a life that they don’t want. And it’s just absolutely heartbreaking, it is also so inspiring. They are incredibly brave, this young, new generation. They have no fear in their eyes. I see the fear on the other side. Although they’re the ones with bullets. What are the chances — there are more of us than there are your bullets. So, we don’t know exactly how this round is going to go. This protest has turned into an uprising and a movement. And I feel like the genie is out of the bottle. They have no place to go. They’ve created a situation where they either have to give up their entire identity, which is no longer going to be the Islamic Republic or they are forced to continue to oppress. And the people are essentially saying, “We’re done.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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