Iran's attorney general has hinted that operations by the country's morality police have been suspended, saying there would be a review of the enforcement of dress codes that formed a major part of the force's duties.
His remarks prompted widespread speculation that the protest movement that began in September after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini had scored a major victory. The young woman's death was allegedly the result of being beaten after her arrest.
Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said that “behaviour in the community” would still be monitored by the country's judiciary, which was not linked to the morality police. Crackdowns by the paramilitary Basij and other security forces, which have left hundreds of protesters dead, are continuing.
Mr Montazeri gave no indication that the government was changing direction from its zero-tolerance position on protests.
Officially called the Guidance Patrol, the police unit has stalked major intersections and roads in Iranian cities, arresting mostly young women for flouting Iran's strict religious dress codes.
“The Guidance Patrol has nothing to do with the judiciary; it was suspended by the same institution that formed it in the past,” the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency quoted Mr Montazeri saying. “Of course, the judiciary continues to monitor behaviour in the community.”
His comments, which fall short of describing an official dissolution of the unit, come as Iran’s ruling clerics face the biggest challenge to their leadership since they took power after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In a statement published in the moderate Shargh newspaper on Saturday, Mr Montazeri said that the judiciary was already working on a draft proposal for amendments to how authorities enforce laws “pertaining to chastity and hijab”.
“Following recent events, the relevant bodies are looking for a prudent solution”, he said.
Iran's parliament and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution plan to reach a decision on how to go forward within 15 days, he said.
Despite government officials floating the idea of reform, there are no indications that protesters are backing down.
Activists have called for a three-day economic strike and a rally to Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square on Wednesday, according to individual posts shared on Twitter by accounts unverified by Reuters.
President Ebrahim Raisi is due to address students in Tehran on the same day to mark Student Day in Iran.
The threat of industrial action is not an idle warning. Strikes since September have hit schools and even the country's vital energy sector, as well as the steel industry, stopping work at the Esfahan Steel Company, which runs one of the country's largest steel mills.