New app helps young Iranians avoid 'morality police'
By Sam Wilkin
DUBAI (Reuters) - A new smartphone application that helps Iranians dodge the Islamic Republic's "morality police" is proving popular with the young, tech-savvy population but has quickly fallen foul of the authorities.
The Gershad app allows users who spot checkpoints set up by the morality police, who enforce Islamic dress and behavior codes, to tag their location on a Google map with an icon of a bearded man, enabling others to steer clear of them.
The app was blocked by the authorities soon after it was released for Android devices on Monday but many Iranians bypass Internet restrictions by using a Virtual Private Network.
It is already trending on social media and has received almost 800 reviews on the Google Play app store, nearly all of them positive, although Google Play does not show how many times Gershad had been downloaded.
Gershad is seen by some as setting a precedent for "digital protest" in Iran as elections loom and the country emerges from years if isolation following the lifting of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.
"Technology has created an amazing opportunity to forge a cooperative solution to common social problems," Gershad's secretive creators said in an email exchange with Reuters.
Gershad is a contraction of the full title of the Gashte Ershad (guidance patrol), which is part of efforts to purge Western culture from the country following the Islamic revolution which overthrew a Western-backed king in 1979.
"For years the morality police have been causing disturbances for Iranian women," the Gershad team said. "Avoiding them in the streets, metro stations and in shopping malls is challenging and tiresome." Continued...