Iran's most prominent Sunni cleric has called for the resignation of the country’s Shia leadership, as hundreds of anti-government protesters returned to the streets of the southeastern city of Zahedan after Friday prayers despite a heavy presence of security forces.
The sermon of Zahedan’s Sunni Friday prayer leader, Molavi Abdolhamid, was not broadcast live on his Instagram account as in previous weeks due to Internet disruptions. Internet monitor NetBlocks confirmed that “real-time network data show a significant disruption to internet connectivity in Zahedan.”
"Rather than imprisoning or arresting people, you should allow them to express their views and listen to them. If you cannot solve their problems, let others solve people's problems,” Molavi said.
In the streets of the restive city, demonstrators could be heard chanting, "We swear on our comrades' blood to stand strong until the end," according to a video posted by the activist news agency HRANA.
Ahead of Friday prayers in Grand Makki Mosque, the largest Sunni mosque in the country, reports said that a number of people were arrested around the compound.
A video shared on social media shows guards at the mosque blocking members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from entering the compound.
Guards at the #Zahedan Friday prayers mosque block Revolutionary Guards forces from entering the mosque through its roof. Protesters in Zahedan have taken to the streets for anti-government demonstrations every week after Friday prayers since #IranProtests began in September 2022 pic.twitter.com/P8QiFh4P3e— IranWire (@IranWireEnglish) February 24, 2023
🎞️ A Zahedan citizen is beaten and arrested by security forces during a siege of the #Zahedan Friday prayers mosque. Locals have reported that the mosque is surrounded by armed agents and that snipers had been deployed across the city.#truth #IranRevoIution pic.twitter.com/PUtiqbhGqo— IranWire (@IranWireEnglish) February 24, 2023
Another clip purported to show security forces beating and arresting a Baluch man trying to enter the mosque.
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province, home to Iran's Sunni Baluch minority of up to 2 million people.
Residents have been holding protest rallies every Friday since September 30, when security forces killed nearly 100 people in the deadliest incident so far in the nationwide demonstrations triggered by the September death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Tehran’s morality police.
Molavi, who has been a key dissenting voice inside the country since the eruption of the protest movement, said in his February 24 sermon that “politics should adhere to Islamic principles."
"When officials are unable to fulfill their responsibilities, it is common practice all over the world for them to step aside. Presidents, prime ministers and other top officials often resign to make way for someone who can tackle the situation and bring positive change," the cleric said.
"But unfortunately, our officials do not know how to step aside."
Last week, Molavi reiterated his call for a referendum to determine under which political system Iranians want to live. He has repeatedly denounced the deadly crackdown on the demonstrations and urged Iran’s Shia clerical leaders to listen to the Iranian people instead of repressing them.
🎞️ Security forces surround the #Zahedan Friday prayers mosque and internet access has been severely disrupted. Zahedan demonstrators have taken to the streets each Friday since #IranProtests began in September 2022.#truth #IranRevoIution pic.twitter.com/FAKVYimhb8— IranWire (@IranWireEnglish) February 24, 2023
The Iranian security forces have killed more than 520 people across the country, including dozens of children, and unlawfully detained over 19,000 others since the eruption of the protest movement, activists say.
Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters. Four protesters have been executed so far amid international condemnation.
The demonstrations and clampdown on dissent have been particularly intense in the country’s western Kurdish areas and Sistan and Baluchistan.