A group of anonymous developers released an app this week that aims to help Iranians avoid running into the checkpoints held by Tehran's morality police, who look to individuals they believe are violating the Islamic code of conduct.
Much like crowdsourcing apps like Waze help drivers to avoid traffic jams, the app, called Gershad, allows users to identify places on a map of the city where the Gasht-e-Ershad, the guidance patrol known as the morality police, are patrolling so that they can avoid these areas.
These mobile checkpoints typically consist of officers from the branch of the security forces, co-directed by the Revolutionary Guards and Interior Ministry, who routinely stop, harass or arrest Iranians for what they allege is inappropriate behavior. Iranians who are stopped are either issued a warning, forced to write a statement to apologize for their behavior, are fined or are detained and prosecuted.
Women are particularly the target, especially those who are not wearing a hijab correctly or at all, or who wear too much makeup. Iranians with others of the opposite sex are sometimes stopped when traveling together and are not married, and men can also be stopped for wearing clothing with too much Western influence.
According to the police spokesman Saeed Montazer al-Mahdi, the morality police obtained 207,053 written pledges from women who did not follow the strict hijab laws, referred 18,081 cases to the Judiciary and gave warnings and guidance to 2,917,000 other "norm-breakers."
Gershad relies on users to detect the checkpoints by adding the location of where a morality police van is located on the map. The app then alerts other users who are near that location. If a specific location doesn't get a lot of confirmations, the checkpoint van will start to fade and then disappear from the map.
The app also lets users plan an alternate route to avoid a run-in with the Ershad.
"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 developers write on the app page.
Gershad was released earlier this week only for Android, and has been downloaded more than 16,000 times in the Google Play Store. However, the app's website was blocked within 24 hours of its release.
The app was developed using Psiphon, a tool used to bypass censorship, which could allow the app to continue to work even if the government continues to crack down on blocking access.
The developers said that they are currently working on iOS and Windows Phone versions, as well as a version that supports Arabic language so that it can be used in Saudi Arabia.
Television personality Nima Akbarpour shared a screen shot on Twitter to further spread awareness for the app.
The public support of the app signifies that many Iranians may be fed up with the strict laws in their country.
Source: The BBC