Iran’s most prominent Sunni cleric has used his Friday sermon to urge the country’s Shia leadership to change the laws and meet protesters’ demands.
The people are "rulers” in a republic, said Molavi Abdolhamid, the Sunni Friday prayer leader in the eastern city of Zahedan, a flashpoint in the unrest that has gripped Iran for more than three months.
Molavi, a member of Iran's beleaguered Sunni Baluch minority, has become a key dissenting voice inside the Islamic Republic since anti-establishment protests erupted in September.
The outspoken cleric has repeatedly denounced the bloody state crackdown on women-led protest movement 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, and has even called for a referendum on protesters' demands, which include ending the current clerical system.
"Unsatisfied people are not impious. Religious people are also unhappy. Iran is for everyone. Even those who do not believe in any religion are Iranians too," Molavi said on January 6.
“Iran does not belong only to those who pray. Iran is for all religious minorities. We cannot say that only those who participate in religious ceremonies are satisfied. Those who voted, and those who did not vote, are all Iranians."
The authorities have cracked down hard on the nationwide protests triggered by the September 16 death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who was being held by police for allegedly wearing a headscarf improperly
Security forces have killed more than 500 people, including dozens of children, and detained over 18,000, 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.
Sistan and Baluchistan, which Zahedan is the capital of, is 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.