Sunni clerics in Sistan and Baluchestan have “completely condemned” the Iranian authorities’ brutal crackdown on nationwide protests, as security forces continue to violently clash with anti-government demonstrators in the restive eastern province and elsewhere.
"The killing of people, whether in Zahedan, Khash, dear Kurdistan or in any other part of Iran, has no justification", the cleric said in a video clip released on November 29.
Iran has been gripped by protests demanding more freedoms and women's rights since the September death of Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, in the custody of Tehran’s morality police.
The unrest triggered a heavy-handed crackdown by security forces in which more than 440 people were killed, including dozens of children, according to one human rights group, with most of the deaths reported in Sistan and Baluchistan and the western province of Kurdistan. Thousands of people have also been arrested. At least six people have so far been sentenced to death over the protests.
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.
Zahedan, the provincial capital, 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.
On November 11 in Khash, human rights activists say at least 18 protesters, bystanders and worshippers were killed in a crackdown on largely peaceful protests.
An Iranian general acknowledged on November 29 that more than 300 people have been killed in the widespread unrest, giving the first official death toll in two months.
General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ aerospace division, said the figure included “martyrs”, an apparent reference to members of the security forces.
Hajizadeh also suggested that many of those killed were ordinary Iranians who were not involved in the protest movement, which has grown to become one of the biggest threats to the clerical regime since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.