Iran's most prominent Sunni cleric urged the Shia-ruled Islamic Republic to address the people’s economic needs instead of allocating excessive funding to the military, after officials unveiled what they described as the country’s first domestically produced hypersonic ballistic missile.
Molavi Abdulhamid, the Sunni Friday prayer leader of Zahedan, made the call in his sermon on June 9, ahead of weekly anti-government protests in the restive south-eastern city.
"We are happy that advanced weapons are unveiled for the defense, but we would be happier if, instead of weapons, the stomachs of these people were fed – the people who are shouting in the streets every day," Molavi said.
On June 6, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force unveiled a new missile named Fattah, or “Conqueror” in Persian, saying that it is able to reach 15 times the speed of sound. No substantial evidence was provided to support the claim.
The move came amid heightened Western concerns about Iran’s missile capabilities and nuclear program. The Islamic Republic is believed to have the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East.
In his Friday sermon, Molavi drew attention to the hardships suffered by Iranian villagers and those living on the cities’ outskirts.
"As long as the Iranian people experience this pain, their lament won’t be silenced. The voice of the nation will persist until you address the people's suffering. Our greatest sorrows are national, not regional," the 76-year-old cleric said.
He said that pressure is being exerted on him to cease his criticism of the Islamic Republic, adding, "If you wish to put an end to the complaints, the solution lies in alleviating the people's pain."
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.
After his June 9 sermon, hundreds of Zahedan residents took to the streets of Zahedan for their 35th consecutive Friday of demonstrations against the country’s Shia clerical rulers.
The protesters chanted slogans such as "I swear to the blood of my comrades, we will stand until the end" and "My martyred brother, I will avenge your blood."
Internet monitor NetBlocks reported that “internet connectivity has been disrupted in Zahedan, adding that “the incident is in keeping with a pattern of internet shutdowns targeting weekly anti-government protests during Friday prayers.”
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 nationwide demonstrations sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody in September.
Iranian security forces have responded to the 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.