Well-respected Sunni Baluch cleric Molavi Abdulmajid Moradzahi has been languishing in solitary confinement for the past four months without any formal charges.
The 63-year-old man, known for his influential role as an advisor to Molavi Abdulhamid, the country’s most prominent Sunni cleric, was arrested on January 30 during anti-government protests in the restive south-eastern city of Zahedan.
The Baluch Activists Campaign, which monitors rights violations in Sistan and Baluchistan province, reported that Moradzahi is being subjected to torture.
During a phone call with his mother that lasted a few seconds, the cleric was unable to speak due to the brutal treatment inflicted upon him, it said.
In a letter released by the Haalvsh human rights organization, Moradzahi's family urged Sunni scholars, human rights groups and international organizations to help secure his release.
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province, home to Iran's Sunni Baluch minority of up to 2 million people.
The province has been rocked by protest rallies every Friday since September 30, when security forces killed nearly 100 people in Zahedan in the deadliest incident in the months-long nationwide demonstrations sparked by the September death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, while in police custody in Tehran.
Security forces have responded to the widespread protests 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.
Moradzahi is often regarded as the right-hand man of Molavi Abdulhamid, who has been a key dissenting voice inside Iran since the eruption of the nationwide protests demanding fundamental economic, social and political changes.
Moradzahi holds key positions as the director of the Farooq Azam publishing house and the Al-Mortaza cultural research institute in Zahedan.
Considered by the Baluch community as an "honorable and dignified" man, Abdulmajid is praised for his dedication to aiding the poor and for voicing the grievances of various ethnic minorities and other marginalized groups in his sermons.
At the time of his arrest, Abdulmajid was investigating reports of security agents assaulting Baluch women and girls detained for participating in protests, according to IranWire sources.
Some activists assert that he was arrested in a bid to pressure Molavi Abdulhamid to stop his critical speeches against the government.
The specific charges against Moradzahi remain unclear.
Authorities have accused the cleric of "maintaining numerous contacts with foreign individuals and media” and of “distorting public perception." A source in Zahedan told IranWire that Moradzahi's relatives reject these allegations.