People in Iran’s Sunni city of Zahedan held big rallies Thursday to support their religious leader after a leaked audio revealed regime’s plan to defame him.
Earlier this week the hacktivist group Black Reward targeted the data servers of Fars news agency, a media network affiliated with the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guard, and released several documents to media indicating that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is dismayed by the remarks made by Mowlavi Abdolhamid, the most prominent religious leader of Iran's largely Sunni Baluch population living in Sistan-Baluchistan province.
However, the documents also revealed that instead of arresting or harming him, Khamenei ordered underlings to tarnish Abdolhamid’s reputation so that his influence would decrease among the Sunni population of the country, about 15 million people who are mainly Baluch or Kurd.
Abdolhamid's popularity is largely because of his willingness to challenge the absolute authority of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Earlier in November, the outspoken Sunni Imam said women, ethnic and religious groups have faced discrimination after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. He was also brave enough to blame Khamenei for the attack on protesters in his hometown, Zahedan, known as the Bloody Friday. It took place September 30, when security forces killed close to 100 people.
According to videos and photos published on Thursday, the residents of Zahedan held a protest rally in support of Abdolhamid, carrying banners that read "Sheikh-ul-Islam is our red line" referring to the outspoken cleric.
The protests took place about two days after a group of Sunni religious leaders in several Baluch cities called on the Islamic Republic to stop its repression machinery used against protesters. In a joint video statement released on Monday, prayer Imams and religious scholars from Khash, Taftan, Mirjaveh and their neighboring towns decried the regime’s appalling attacks against the people of Kurdish majority cities, the killings on September 30 dubbed as ‘Bloody Friday’ in Zahedan, and a brutal crackdown of Khash residents on November 4, among others.
In November, Abdolhamid called for an internationally monitored referendum, saying by killing and suppression the government cannot push back a nation.
The Thursday protests in Zahedan took place as President Ebrahim Raisi visited the Kurdish city of Sanandaj, which has been the scene of fierce clashes between people and security forces since the Islamic Republic intensified its military presence in Kurdish-majority cities in western Iran. The fact that everyone in Iran is aware of the government’s ploy to sow division among the Sunnis, especially following the leak, apparently has not changed the regime’s plans at all as Raisi tried to pretend that he is popular among the Kurdish population. He even showed up at the city’s market and said prayers in a Sunni mosque, something that is unprecedented and frowned upon in a normal situation.
Of course, the situation is not normal for the Islamic Republic as universities across the country are employing extra security forces to quash student protests, which are supported by about 200 universities worldwide, and the international outcry over the regime’s crackdown on popular antigovernment protests is growing day by day. Moreover, the nationwide strikes by truckers as well as employees of numerous factories, especially in oil, gas, petrochemicals and steel industries, are garnering more support every day, crippling the country’s supply chain and exports.
Meanwhile, several grassroot groups have called for protests on December 5, 6, and 7. December 7 marks the anniversary of the 1953 murder of several students at University of Tehran and is traditionally considered a day of nationwide rallies in Iran.