Iran's most prominent Sunni cleric has again called for a halt in executions in Iran, saying that the Islamic Republic’s increasing use of the death penalty will not succeed in quelling popular calls for fundamental reforms.
Molavi Abdulhamid, the Sunni Friday prayer leader of the south-eastern city of Zahedan, made the comments on May 19, hours after three men accused of deadly violence during last year’s anti-government protests were executed, sparking widespread condemnation both inside and outside Iran.
Campaigners have denounced the Islamic Republic's escalation of executions in recent weeks and accused the authorities of using the death penalty as a means to intimidate Iranians.
"A nation can’t be suppressed by executions," Molavi said in his Friday sermon, adding that "such actions have no basis in the Islamic faith."
"They are a consequence of a distorted interpretation of religion,” the 76-year-old cleric added. “I want to assure the global community that these executions are in no way representative of the Islam religion.”
After Friday prayers, Zahedan residents took to the streets for weekly protests and shouted slogans against the Islamic Republic and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
🎥 ویدیوهای منتشر شده از زاهدان حاکی از حضور گسترده معترضانی است که شعارهایی چون «برادر شهیدم خونتو پس میگیرم» و «حکومت اعدامی نمیخوایم، نمیخوایم» سر میدهند. ۲۹اردیبهشت— ایران وایر (@iranwire) May 19, 2023
#خانه_اصفهان #مهسا_امینی #شهروندخبرنگار pic.twitter.com/mtrnPfA0IM
Molavi has been a key dissenting voice inside Iran since the eruption of nationwide protests in September 2022 demanding fundamental economic, social and political changes.
🎥 معترضان در زاهدان امروز جمعه، ۲۹اردیبهشت مطابق معمول جمعههای گذشته به خیابان آمده و شعارهای ضدحکومتی چون «با اینکه بیتفنگیم مثل مرد میجنگیم» و «بسیجی، سپاهی، داعش ما شمایید» سردادند.#مهسا_امینی #شهروندخبرنگار #جمعه_خونین_زاهدان pic.twitter.com/oB09xg5RhO— ایران وایر (@iranwire) May 19, 2023
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province, home to Iran's Sunni Baluch minority of up to 2 million people. The city has been rocked by protest rallies every Friday since September 30, when security forces killed nearly 100 people, in the deadliest incident in the widespread demonstrations triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.
Iranian security forces have responded to the women-led protest movement with brutal force, killing more than 520 people during demonstrations 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 protests and clampdown on dissent have been particularly intense in western Kurdish areas and Sistan and Baluchistan.