The most prominent Sunni cleric in Iran has used his Friday sermon to tell the country’s Shia leadership that the Sunni Baluch minority “will not tolerate threats” and “will not compromise,” amid a fierce state crackdown on nationwide protests demanding more freedoms and women's rights.
"Nowhere in the world do they respond to people's protests with bullets," Molavi Abdolhamid, the Friday prayer leader in Zahedan, capital of the eastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, said on November 18.
Molavi’s comments came three days after a representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who was leading a delegation to Sistan and Baluchestan criticized the behavior of some Sunni clerics during the ongoing wave of protests against the country’s Shia clerical regime.
“Those who threw water into the enemy's mill by tweeting and making inappropriate and provocative speeches should be held accountable," Mohammed-Javad Hajali-Akbari said on November 15.
Molavi has criticized Iran’s clerical leaders over their harsh response to the protest movement, and urged them to organize a referendum to resolve the current crisis rather than “imprisoning, killing and beating up” people.
Iran has been gripped by protests since the September death of Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, in the custody of Tehran’s morality police. The protest movement has grown to become one of the biggest threats to the clerical regime since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The unrest triggered a heavy-handed crackdown by security forces in which more than 340 people were killed, including dozens of children. Thousands of people have also been arrested. Five people have so far been sentenced to death over the protests.
Zahedan was the scene of a violent crackdown on September 30 in which security forces killed 92 people, including 12 children. Four security forces were also killed that day, dubbed Zahedan’s Black Friday.
Sistan and Baluchistan is one of Iran’s poorest provinces and home to a Sunni Baluch minority estimated to number up to 2 million people.
"They prejudged that we would sit with the delegation and compromise about the blood of the martyrs, or that we would be threatened and sit back, or that we would finally give up," Molavi said in his latest Friday sermon.
"But it was a wrong judgment. We will not tolerate threats. We are ready to negotiate but will not compromise."
After Friday prayers, protesters held rallies Zahedan, Saravan, Khash and Chabahar and other cities across Sistan and Baluchestan, with drones flying overhead.
Social media footage showed people in the city of Rask chanting "Death to the dictator," in reference to Khamenei.