The most prominent Iranian Sunni cleric has again called for fundamental changes in the way Iran is governed, saying that "one ethnic group and one religion cannot rule the country.”
Molavi Abdolhamid, the Sunni Friday prayer leader of Zahedan, made the comments in his Friday sermon on March 17, ahead of weekly protests in the southeastern city against the Shia-ruled Islamic Republic.
Activists reported a large presence of security forces in the restive city as hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets after Friday prayers, chanting "Freedom, Freedom, Freedom," "We don’t want the Islamic Republic" and "Political prisoners must be released."
🎞️ Hundreds of protestors took to the streets of #Zahedan and chanted: "I Will Kill Whoever Killed My Brother!" Thousands of protesters have been arrested and hundreds have been killed since protests began in September 2022 in #Iran.#truth #IranRevoIution #IranProtests pic.twitter.com/FtIjUVQZFD— IranWire (@IranWireEnglish) March 17, 2023
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan, home to Iran's Sunni Baluch minority of up to 2 million people.
Residents have been holding protest rallies every Friday since September 30 when security forces killed nearly 100 people, in the deadliest incident so far in the nationwide demonstrations triggered by the September death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in police custody.
Molavi, who has been a key dissenting voice inside Iran since the eruption of the women-led protest movement, said in his Friday sermon that the country’s problems needed a “national” solution that would include having a government that includes “all ethnic groups and religions."
The 76-year-old cleric also denounced the militarization of government bodies, saying, "The nation should not be only governed by security and military administration. Yet all posts and positions are currently held by military personnel.
"The presence of police officers in the streets should be avoided,” he added. “In many countries, when security is high, there is no need for a visible police presence since the people's general trust in the government is strong."
Iranian security forces have unleashed a brutal crackdown on six months of widespread protests against the clerical establishment, killing more than 520 demonstrators across the country and unlawfully detaining over 20,000 others, activists say.
Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
The demonstrations and clampdown on dissent have been particularly intense in the country’s western Kurdish areas and Sistan and Baluchistan.