The fate of the Gonabadi dervishes arrested on February 19 during violent clashes in Tehran remains unknown. Five dervishes were killed during the clashes and many were arrested, but despite earnest efforts on behalf of the families of the arrested Sufis, no solid information about their situation is available.
The task of finding information has been made more difficult by the fact that the Gonabadi Sufis’ website Majzooban Noor went dormant after the crackdown, at the behest of their spiritual leader Noor Ali Tabandeh and following increased pressure from the government.
Authorities beat up many of the dervishes in the process of arresting them. The dervishes arrived at prison with injuries and bone fractures, and their families fear for the health, and even the lives, of their loved ones. Family members spend their days outside various buildings of the Justice Ministry, waiting to receive news. The rest of the time, they listen for the phone to ring, hoping that perhaps they will hear from them or about them.
According to some reports, currently around 350 Gonabadi dervishes are detained at Greater Tehran Penitentiary, also known as Fashafuyeh Prison, on charges of “disrupting public order.” Early on after the clashes, it was announced that the prisoners would be released on bail before March 21, the start of the Iranian new year, Norooz. But when the families tried to post bail, authorities turned them back and their detention was extended, this time on charges of “activities against national security.”
The dervishes are being kept at four separate wards. Most are suffering from the injuries they received during their arrest, but they have been given no access to medical care or medicine.
No Medical Care
“During these 37 days I have seen my father only once,” tweeted Nafiseh Moradi, the daughter of Saleh Moradi, one of the detainees. “His head was covered with stitches and he had broken ribs. He had difficulty breathing and sleeping. This is the situation of our loved ones. No medical care.”
Farhad Nouri, a Sufi rights activist, talked to IranWire. “After these few weeks, the injuries and the fractures have relatively mended and now they need their sutures or the pins in their bones to be removed. But prison officials are adamant that sick and injured dervishes can go to treatment centers only if they go in shackles, and the dervishes refuse to do this. So the situation has become very difficult. Of course there are two or three detained doctors who do what they can to take care of them.”
The full list of charges against the detained dervishes now includes “disrupting public order,” “demonstrations while armed,” “rioting and vandalism,” and “gathering and conspiracy against national security.”
Security forces also arrested 11 female dervishes, who have been held at Gharchak women’s prison and detention center in east Tehran since the clashes. There are widespread reports about the prison’s unhygienic and dismal conditions.
Farhad Nouri is currently one the few remaining sources for news about Gonabadi dervishes. “Two of the women, Elham Ahmadi and Sedigheh Safabakht, were transferred from Gharchak to Evin Prison for interrogations,” he told IranWire. “All the arrested women have been interrogated three or four times. In one case, the interrogators were from the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit. The [women] have had a very hard time and are kept in dreary conditions. Just today, a few hours before this conversation, it was visiting time, but they did not allow the families to visit them.” Nouri said none of those jailed have been allowed access to a lawyer.
“My father’s interrogation is complete and they have even set bail,” said Ms. S.A., whose father is one of the arrested dervishes and asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. “But every time we have gone there to post bail we have been told that we should come back.” Authorities told S.A. that she should return after new year holidays, which end on April 2, to enquire about her father.
Setting Up a Murder Case
The cases of nine arrested dervishes accused of murder have so far not even been sent to court. The nine — Javad Khamisabadi, Ahmad Mousavi, Nour Ali Mousavi, Kianoush Abbaszadeh, Mehdi Eskandari, Amir Labbaf, Mir Sadegh, Abbas Dehghan and Shahnaz Kiani —have been detained at the Police Criminal Investigation Department’s detention center on Shapour Street, and kept in harsh conditions. According to Farhad Nouri, it is possible that the security agencies want to create a separate case for them. “That night there was a bus and two cars belonging to dervishes in the area,” he said. “Mr. Mir Sadegh has been arrested because of the bus and has been charged with ‘accessory to murder’.”
Nouri is referring to is a bus that ran over policemen during clashes, killing three of them. Yavar Mohammad Salas, one of the dervishes who was present at the scene, was accused of carrying out the attack and has been sentenced to death.
Ahmad Mousavi, his wife Shahnaz Kiani and their son Nour Ali Mousavi have been kept incommunicado for the past three weeks. Mousavi owns one of the cars found at the scene where the policemen were killed, so it is assumed that the family has been put under pressure to confess to murder. Quoting the National Police on the morning of February 20, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that two members of the paramilitary Basij had also been killed in the clashes. According to IRNA, one of them was run over by a car.
In addition to the detained dervishes, the family of Ebrahim Abbaszadeh, who is Sufi leader Noor Ali Tabandeh’s family doctor, have been placed under house arrest.
Farhad Nouri said the accusations about the murders are untrue. “The Samand [an Iranian car produced in the country] that was on the scene belongs to Abbas Dehghan,” he said. “He was not driving the car, but two days after he was arrested and taken to Greater Tehran Penitentiary, they transferred him to Shapur detention center. Our sources tell us that he was under great pressure to confess. They even threatened him that if he did not take responsibility for driving the car, they would rape his pregnant wife! On March 10, they took him and his Samand to the scene to reconstruct the so-called crime scene. They told him that they would release him quickly if he would confess that he was driving the car because nobody was killed or injured by that car. But Abbas Dehghan says he will not accept responsibility for a crime that he has not committed.”
Murder is not the Sufi Way
Farhad Nouri also said that no Sufi would commit murder, because the Sufi way is against killing and murder. Mohammad Hossein Haddadian, a member of the paramilitary Basij organization, was one member of the security forces who was run over by a car and killed during the clashes. Nouri believes that he might have been killed by the police, who mistook him for a dervish because he was wearing a mask.
The son of one of the detainees at Shapur detention center told IranWire that two days ago, his father told him on the phone that the detainees at Shapur had gone on hunger strike as a protest against the pressure they have faced to confess to crimes they have not committed. “They have not allowed us to engage lawyers,” he said. “We are not allowed to visit them. We have had only two short phone conversations. We are worried that, under pressure, they will be forced to make false confessions.”
It is obvious that there were scenes of violence on the night of February 19, but also scenes of chaos. Some of those arrested were not dervishes and were arrested by mistake. Authorities released them shortly after. But some of the dervishes who were arrested were not even near the clashes and were actually arrested on nearby streets. Whether the dervishes were arrested at the scene of the clashes or at another location, the families of those arrested on February 19 told IranWire that, so far, none of their loved ones have been released.
More on the plight of the Gonabadi Sufis:
Gonabadi Sufi Dies in Prison, March 2018
Who are the Gonabadi Sufis?, February 2018
The Dervishes Show How it's Done, February 2018
Clashes Between Police and Sufis Leave Five Dead, February 2018
Arrested Gonabadi Sufis Go on Hunger Strike, January 2018
Iran Cracks Down on Sufis, July 2017
Campaign for the Rights of Gonabadi Sufis Gains Support, October 2017
Supreme Court Upholds Sentences for Gonabadi Dervishes, February 2015