Molavi Abdulhamid, Iran's most prominent Sunni cleric, has strongly criticized the authorities for preventing the families of people killed at last year's nationwide protests from holding memorials on the anniversaries of their deaths.
"It is a universal custom and an Islamic tradition to extend sympathy to those who are suffering and grieving," the outspoken Sunni Friday prayer leader of the southeastern city of Zahedan said on September 22.
Authorities deterred the family of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, whose death on September 16 last year sparked the month-long protests, from holding a vigil at her grave, in an apparent attempt to prevent fresh protests.
The mother of 16-year-old Nika Shakarami, who became a symbol of the women-led protest movement, said she was forced to call off a vigil.
And security forces attacked the family of Javad Heydari a day before the anniversary of the 39-year-old's death at a protest.
The security forces’ crackdown on the protests claimed the lives of more than 500 people, activists say. Thousands of others were unlawfully detained.
In his Friday sermon, Molavi also spoke against the Islamic Republic’s laws requiring women to wear a headscarf in public, two days after parliament passed legislation to impose further draconian penalties on violators.
"If women were respected and given their rightful place, and if we had a comprehensive plan for the youth, there would be no need for young people to take to the streets in protest and there would be no need to pass complex and stringent laws in parliament," the 76-year-old cleric said.
Sources in Zahedan reported that the live broadcast of the sermon was interrupted due to a disruption to internet connectivity.
Global internet monitoring organization NetBlocks confirmed the disruption, saying that it “follows a pattern of weekly regional internet shutdowns targeting anti-government protests during Friday prayers.”
Zahedan residents took to the streets after Molavi’s sermon, chanting slogans against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the security forces.
Molavi has been a key dissenting voice inside Iran since the eruption of the widespread protests, using his sermons to call for fundamental economic, social and political changes in the country.
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province, which is home to Iran's Sunni Baluch minority of up to 2 million people.
The restive city has seen protest rallies almost every Friday since September 30 of last year, when security forces killed nearly 100 people in the deadliest incident in last year’s demonstrations.