Iran’s most prominent Sunni cleric has again used his Friday sermon to urge the country’s Shia leadership to listen to the Iranian people, whom he said are “tired of discrimination, pressures and poverty”, instead of repressing them.
Molavi Abdolhamid, the Friday prayer leader in the eastern city of Zahedan, made the comments on December 2 amid a bloody state crackdown on an anti-government protest movement that has swept the country for 11 weeks.
"The nation has suffered for 44 years [under the Islamic Republic], they are protesting against that now. Tolerate them and listen to their problems because rejecting criticism creates tyranny", Abdolhamid said.
"After 44 years, we are tired of discrimination, pressures and poverty. Don't imprison us. Don't beat people. People are hungry. Sit down with them and reach a deal. They are the people of Iran".
After Friday prayers, hundreds of people took to the streets in Zahedan and other cities across the province of Sistan and Baluchestan, chanting slogans such as “Death to Khamenei” and "Khamenei is a murderer”, in reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
According to footage shared on social media, dozens of women gathered in Zahedan, chanting "Whether with or without a hijab, we are going toward the revolution" and "An Iranian dies, he does not accept humiliation".
Images showed military forces firing tear gas at a crowd of demonstrators in the city.
Residents of Khash also took to the streets and chanted "Death to Basiji", the members of the paramilitary Basij force that has had a key role in the bloody crackdown on the nationwide demonstrations demanding more freedoms and women's rights.
The burst of public anger was triggered by the September death of Mahsa 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 sparked a heavy-handed crackdown by security forces in which more than 440 people were killed, including dozens of children. At least 18,000 people have also been arrested, according to rights activists. Several people have been sentenced to death over the protests.
The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group has said that more than half of the deaths occurred in the mainly Kurdish areas and Sistan and Baluchestan, which is home to a Sunni Baluch minority estimated to number up to 2 million people.
Referring to widespread reports about the torture of prisoners, Abdolhamid called on the government to stop “beating, insulting and assaulting” inmates, and urged the judiciary to not charge protesters with "enmity against God", which carries a death sentence.
"We want our country to be safe and united. We don't have Shia, Sunni or ethnic divisions here. We are all Iranians. From Zoroastrians and Dervishes to tribes and even Baha'is. They are both humans and Iranians, and their rights must be respected," he said.
Last month, Abdolhamid called for an internationally monitored referendum, saying that the majority of Iranians “are not happy.”