The Sunni prayer leader of Zahedan has urged Iran’s Shia leadership to respect freedom of expression, amid renewed anti-government protests in the southeastern restive city.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Zahedan and other cities across Sistan and Baluchestan province after Friday prayers on February 3, chanting slogans against the Islamic Republic, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
🎞️ Protesters in #Zahedan took to the streets after Friday prayers, chanting "Death to Khamenei!" Dozens of protesters have been shot and killed in Zahedan since protests broke out across #Iran in September.#truth #IranRevoIution #IranProtests2022 pic.twitter.com/2mbiy4jVkg— IranWire (@IranWireEnglish) February 3, 2023
In his sermon, Molavi Abdolhamid, the city’s Sunni prayer leader, urged Iran’s Shia clerical rulers to put an end to their bloody crackdown on four months of widespread demonstrations demanding more freedoms and women’s rights.
"Don't jail critics! Criticism is the cure for the country's problems. The biggest problem is that the doors of criticism are closed. Writers and journalists should be free to report problems," Molavi said.
"A government has no value if the people reject it. The role of a government is to serve the people."
Molavi has been a key dissenting voice inside the country since the eruption of the ongoing wave of popular anger triggered by the September death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Tehran’s morality police.
He has repeatedly denounced the bloody crackdown on the women-led protest movement and urged Iran’s leadership to listen to the Iranian people instead of repressing them.
He has also urged the Islamic Republic to respect the rights of all religious minorities, and has even called for a referendum on protesters' demands, which include ending the current clerical system.
The security forces have cracked down hard on the widespread protests, killing more than 520 people, including dozens of children, and detaining over 18,000, activists say. Following biased trials, the judiciary handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
In his February 3 sermon, Molavi urged the Islamic Republic to stop “humiliating or harassing” prisoners and respect their rights.
"Every human being should be respected. All human beings have dignity," he said.
Anyone should be able to join the government regardless of his religion, according to the cleric, who added, “Atheists should also be in the government, as well as Jews and Christians.”
The demonstrations and clampdown on dissent have been particularly intense in the country’s western Kurdish areas and the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, home to Iran's Sunni Baluch minority of up to 2 million people.
Human rights groups say the Baluch community has faced discrimination and repression for decades.