The outspoken leader of Iran’s Sunnis, Mowlavi Abdolhamid, described Friday’s mass arrest of 50 worshipers and citizens of Zahedan as “provocative.”
The roundup of worshippers included 13 children and is part of a weekly system of oppression of the country’s Sunni minority who see constant threats of arrest and even state sponsored violence.
The incident happened following last week’s Friday prayer in commemoration of the lives lost last year in the Bloody Friday tragedy where state security murdered close to 100 civilians, including women and children.
“After Friday prayers, people should return to their homes with silence and remembrance of the Almighty … but the extensive presence of forces on the streets surrounding the mosque and prayer ground further agitates the people,” he said.
“When the youth see that the authorities have arrived in such numbers, it stirs up emotions … but if these authorities were not present, there would be no problem.”
Bloody Friday initially began with protesting worshippers gathering after a police commander sexually assaulted a young Baluch girl a few weeks earlier and resulted in one of the most bloody days of the uprising which followed the death in morality police custody of Mahsa Amini.
At that time, nationwide anti-regime protests were also taking place, following the death of Mahsa Amini in hijab police custody in mid-September 2022. The protests in Zahedan were seen by the regime as another serious challenge and they acted more brazenly than in Shiite cities, opening direct fire at protesters.
Abdolhamid also stressed that after more than a year, “no proper steps have been taken to heal the pains” of the families of the victims of Bloody Friday. “The greatest pain and distress of the people, whose family members were martyred on that fateful day in Zahedan on the 8th of Mehr, 1401, is that, unfortunately, no proper attention has been given to this matter, and no significant steps have been taken to address their suffering.”
Since then, this Sunni-majority city has been a scene of week-round protests, which follow the sermons delivered by their Friday prayer leader, Mowlavi Abdolhamid.
The Sunni cleric stated that worshippers should return home “in silence and remembrance of God after Friday prayer”; however, the presence of security forces around the mosque is likely to exacerbate the situation and “provoke” people.
Videos posted on social media by the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) show special guard forces surrounding the Makki Mosque and significant force used when arresting citizens in the city.
A number of activists and community leaders have expressed their support for the people of Zahedan, including Iran’s exiled prince, Reza Pahlavi. He reacted to the incident Friday by blaming the regime for responding to “peaceful chants with a violent crackdown— including against children.”
“The regime occupying our country is the godfather of terrorism in the Middle East,” he wrote on X. “No Iranian, Israeli, or Arab will be safe as long as this criminal regime is in power. Lasting peace in the Middle East can come sooner than expected if the world takes real action to help the Iranian people overthrow this terrorist empire.”
Moreover, Fazl ul-Rahman Kouhi, the Friday prayer Imam of Pashamag village in Sarbaz County, Sistan and Baluchestan, and a number of his companions were arrested by the security forces on Sunday after meeting Abdolhamid in Zahedan.
Kouhi, who was recently released after a long period of imprisonment, had said before his arrest in response to Friday’s crackdown on protesters that “the attack of military forces on the worshipers in Zahedan is no less oppressive than the actions of Israel against the people of Palestine.”
Friday protests in Zahedan were documented on social media, with slogans expressing opposition to Iran’s current policy of supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. Participants chanted “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, My Life for Iran” and “From Zahedan to Gaza, the Whole World Shakes.”
Abdolhamid, renowned for his outspoken views, has expressed his criticism of Hamas’ declaration of war against Israel on October 7. “We will not blindly support a Muslim who goes too far and ignores international law and attacks women and kills children,” he said, going against the regime’s rhetoric that Hamas must continue to crush Israel until it no longer exists.
His sermons were seen as an implicit reaction to Iran’s Leader Ali Khamenei’s lauding Hamas’ “epic” attacks on Israel.
The Khamenei-affiliated Kayhan newspaper attacked Abdolhamid, calling him a “Mossad agent”.