Iran's most prominent Sunni leader Mowlana Abdolhamid has once again called for a referendum in the country, saying people's wish for a secular government must be met.

During his Friday prayer sermon, the outspoken Sunni leader continued to challenge the Islamic Republic and its ruler Ali Khamenei by demanding submission to the popular will, saying that an Islamic government must be democratic according to practices in the early years of Islam.

Pointing to the ongoing disagreement between a large part of the nation and the regime, he said the reasonable way out of this political impasse that would cause the least harm is the submission of the Islamic Republic to rule and the will of the people. 

"The Islamic Republic regime was established in Iran 44 years ago and since the 1979 revolution, a particular reading and understanding of Islam has been prevalent in the country and it has been the same until now. But there is another understanding of Islam that we believe in, and that is the justice of Imam Ali,” referring to the fourth Caliph and the first Shiite Imam. “In this view, there is not only one ruler and a permanent government; the ruler should be determined by the people,” he added. 

He added, "There is no death sentence in this reading of Islam. Forced confession is rejected and has no place. In this view, people can easily criticize their ruler and government. There is freedom.”

Women should enjoy equal rights as men, so do all ethnic groups, religions, and all human beings, Abdolhamid noted, adding that “The only solution to end the differences is accepting the will of the majority of the people.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, he criticized the regime’s plan to liquidate public assets and grant immunity to the seven-man team responsible for its implementation. Such properties belong to all the people, he underlined, adding that the "Iranian people have a bitter memory of privatization.” Previously, under the guise of privatization, public properties, factories and big companies were sold far below market price to people or organizations with connections and influence, he said. 

Moreover, he once again demanded the release of "imprisoned religious leaders of various provinces, especially in provinces of Kordestan and Sistan-Baluchistan" as well as other political and ideological prisoners. 

People of Zahedan holding protests rallies after the Friday prayers on February 17, 2023

As is the new normal in Zahedan, where Abdolhamid leads the Friday prayers, people held demonstrations after they left the mosques on Friday and chanted slogans against the Islamic Republic and its ruler Ali Khamenei. Similar rallies were held in another city of the province, Khash. 

However, over 1,300 kilometers north of Zahedan, in Golestan province where there are large Sunni Baluch and Turkmen communities, another Sunni Mowlavi (Imam), Mohammad-Hossein Gorgij, has reportedly been put under house arrest. People held a gathering outside the residence of Gorgij and expressed their support for him. 

Also on Friday, the security situation was tense in several Kurdish cities, which are predominantly populated by Sunni people, such as Sanandaj in Kordestan province and Sardasht in West Azarbaijan. People were not allowed to visit their cities’ graveyards as the security forces are afraid that any gathering can morph into antigovernment protest rallies.

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