Iran's top Sunni cleric has used his Friday prayer sermon to urge the country's Shia leadership to end the mistreatment of the persecuted Baha'i religious minority, as hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of Zahedan.
Molavi Abdulhamid, the Sunni Friday prayer leader of Zahedan, made the call in his sermon on June 16, ahead of weekly anti-government protests in the restive southeastern city.
"Despite being non-Muslims, Baha'is are citizens and human beings, and it is imperative that their cemeteries are not demolished," he said. "Their bodies should not be withheld by the government and covertly buried in undisclosed locations.”
Molavi was referring to an ongoing challenge in Tehran where officials have prevented Baha’is from using their own cemetery and then buried their loved ones in improper graves and without religious rites.
Numerous reports from international human rights organizations have highlighted the expanding persecution of Baha'is in Iran, with the government's apparent encouragement and continued anti-Baha'i propaganda in the media.
Molavi has been a key dissenting voice inside Iran since the eruption of nationwide protests in September 2022, demanding fundamental economic, social and political changes.
During his weekly Friday prayers in Zahedan, the 75-year-old cleric has also called for the release of imprisoned women and political detainees.
Due to stte-imposed internet cuts in Zahedan, the speech was not broadcast live and was only made available as an audio file on Molavi's Telegram channel after a delay.
He emphasized the importance of valuing and respecting women, stating that there are those who perceive women as only responsible for childcare and household chores. He asserted that women play a crucial and contemporary role all aspect of society.
The influential Sunni cleric also addressed the confrontations between security forces and participants in funeral ceremonies for deceased protesters. He emphasized that it is the duty of the people to express sympathy for those who have lost their loved ones.
While not directly referring to the issue of his own Hajj trip being banned, he highlighted the political and social significance of the event.
Iran’s security agencies have banned him from leaving the country for a planned Hajj pilgrimage to Islam’s holy places in Saudi Arabia.
A statement issued by Molavi Abdulhamid's office revealed on June 14 that he had already prepared for his pilgrimage journey.
But his plans have been abruptly halted due to what he describes as government "obstruction."
According to the statement, the ban was imposed based on pronouncements made by specific officials within the Ministry of Intelligence.
Meanwhile, in Zahedan, the site of ongoing protests after his Friday sermons, the atmosphere remains tense as local sources from Sistan and Baluchistan province report a significant deployment of security forces, severe disruptions to internet connectivity, and heightened security measures.
As a large crowd assembled around Makki Mosque to partake in the Friday prayer, led by Molavi Abdulhamid, the area saw a surge in anti-riot and security personnel, with an increased presence in surrounding streets.
Defying the tense security situation, Baluch protesters once again took to the streets, echoing the sentiments of previous weeks' demonstrations.
They chanted slogans such as "I will sacrifice my life for my brother" and "Time for unity, time for revolution."
Protesters also held placards such as "Death to Khamenei," referring to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Anti-riot forces on motorcycles maintained constant patrols throughout Zahedan, swiftly responding to and dispersing any gatherings they encountered.
Witnesses also reported the presence of military helicopters hovering above Makki Mosque.
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province, home to Iran's Sunni Baluch minority of up to 2 million people.
The city has seen protest rallies every Friday since September 30 of last year, when security forces killed nearly 100 people in the deadliest incident in the nationwide demonstrations sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody.
Iranian security forces have responded to the protest movement with brutal force, killing more than 520 people during demonstrations and unlawfully detaining over 20,000 others, activists say. Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
The protests and clampdown on dissent have been particularly intense in western Kurdish areas and Sistan and Baluchistan.