Iran’s Guards warn cleric over ‘agitating’ in restive southeast

  • Dozens were killed in Zahedan on September 30
  • One of the deadliest incidents during the protests over Amini’s death
  • The Revolutionary Guards admonish the cleric after demanding accountability
  • Strikes reported in Kurdish regions

DUBAI, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have accused a Sunni cleric of incitement against the Islamic Republic and warned it could cost him dearly after he said officials, including the supreme leader, were responsible for dozens of deaths in the city of Zahedan last month.

Amnesty International said security forces killed at least 66 people in a crackdown after Friday prayers in Zahedan in the southeast on September 30, some of the deadliest unrest during five weeks of protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini.

Molavi Abdolhamid, Zahedan’s main Sunni cleric, said during his Friday sermon that officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, head of the Shiite-dominated state, were “responsible before God” for the September 30 killings.

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A short statement on Sepah News, the official news website of the Revolutionary Guards, said: “Mr. Abdolhamid, encouraging and agitating the youth against the holy Islamic Republic of Iran may cost you dearly! This is the last warning!”

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The protests sparked by the death of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who died after being detained by moral police for “improper clothing”, represented one of the most daring challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.

Although the protests do not appear close to toppling the government, unrest has swept across the country, including areas home to ethnic minorities with long-standing grievances against the state.

Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province in southeastern Iran, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, home to the Baluch ethnic minority.

State media said at the time of the September 30 violence that “unidentified armed individuals” opened fire on a police station, prompting security forces to return fire.

The Revolutionary Guards said five members of its forces and the volunteer Basij militia were killed during the September 30 violence. Authorities blamed a Baloch militant group. Neither that group nor any other faction claimed a role.

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MORE PROTESTS

After protests erupted again in Zahedan on Friday, Deputy Interior Minister for Security Majid Mir Ahmadi said calm had returned, the official IRNA news agency reported on Saturday.

He said 150 “thugs attacked public property and even those shops belonging to Sunnis”.

On Friday, police arrested at least 57 people described as “rioters” after protesters threw stones and attacked banks in the city, provincial police chief Ahmad Taheri was quoted as saying on Friday by the official IRNA news agency.

State television said up to 300 protesters marched in the city after Friday prayers. It showed banks and shops with broken windows.

Abdolhamid, the Sunni cleric, described the September 30 killing as a massacre, saying bullets were fired in the head and chest. “Dozens were killed here. I don’t have the exact number. Some report 90, some say less, some say more,” he said in the sermon posted on his website.

Rights groups say the government has long discriminated against ethnic minorities, including the Kurds, in whose region unrest has also been particularly intense since Amini’s death.

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The state denies the allegations of discrimination.

Iran has blamed the unrest on a range of enemies, including armed dissidents. The Revolutionary Guards attacked the bases of the armed Iranian Kurdish groups in neighboring Iraq.

The protesters sought to emphasize national unity through songs expressing solidarity between different ethnic groups.

Rights groups Hengaw reported that traders went on strike on Saturday in the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan province, Sanandaj, and Saqez – Amini’s hometown, in addition to Bukan, another city in the northwest.

Activist news agency HRANA reported on Friday that 244 protesters were killed in the unrest across the country, including 32 minors. State television reported the death of at least 26 members of the security forces during the riots.

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Report from the Dubai newsroom; Written by Tom Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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