Iran's most prominent Sunni cleric has been under intense pressure from the country’s security forces to stop using his Friday sermons to criticize the Islamic Republic, human rights activists say.
"By putting pressure on Molavi Abdolhamid, the security and military institutions have asked him to end the Friday protests in Baluchistan and to stop delivering critical sermons. He has refused," according to HAALVSH, a group that monitors rights violations of the Sunni minority in Iran.
Molavi is the Sunni Friday prayer leader of the eastern city of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan, an impoverished province that is home to Iran's Baluch minority of up to 2 million people. Human rights groups say the Baluch community has faced discrimination and repression for decades.
Since anti-establishment protests erupted across Iran in September following the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who was being held by police for allegedly wearing a headscarf improperly, Abdolhamid has become a key dissenting voice inside the Islamic Republic.
The outspoken cleric has repeatedly denounced the bloody state crackdown on women-led protest movement in his sermons and urged Iran’s Shia clerical leaders to listen to the Iranian people instead of repressing them.
He has also urged the Islamic Republic to respect the rights of all religious minorities, including Baha'is, who have faced systematic persecution in Iran.
Iranian security forces have killed more than 500 people, including dozens of children, and detained over 18,000 in their crackdown on the ongoing protests, human rights activists say. At least 100 protesters are currently at risk of “execution, death penalty charges or sentences,” according to one rights group.
The demonstrations and state clampdown have been particularly intense in the country’s western Kurdish areas and Sistan and Baluchistan.
Each week on Fridays, hundreds of people are taking to the streets of Zahedan and other cities across Sistan and Baluchestan, chanting slogans against the Islamic Republic and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
A large number of military forces and plainclothes officers have been deployed in the streets of Zahedan ahead of Friday prayers on January 6.