Clerics in Iran are “oppressed” and most live below the poverty line, according to Tehran Friday prayer imam Kazem Seddiqi.

The noted scholar alluded to members of the clergy being “ruthlessly” targeted by some “cruel people”.

Seddiqi said he hoped that the recent killing of clerics “would become a good origin of a cultural movement in society”.

He was speaking on Friday as the body of a missing cleric was found in northern Iran.

Ebrahim Fazel had gone missing on Tuesday as he had traveled from the religious city of Qom – where he was studying at the seminary – to his hometown in the northern province. His body was found in the coastal waters near the city of Jouybar.

The circumstances around his death remain unclear. The evidence has yet to reveal whether he drowned or his body was thrown into the water.

In recent months members of clergy have increasingly become targets of attacks by Iranians who see them as symbolizing the nation’s problems.

Last month, media close to the Revolutionary Guard reported that two clerics were targeted by a driver in Qom after another similar attack a few days earlier. It was the third attack on clerics within a few days. Tehran police announced on April 27 that a manhunt was underway to find another driver in the attempted murder of a cleric in the capital.

Since the 1979 revolution, the clergy have gained increasing power, but discontent has risen in recent years, particularly amid waves of protests over economic, political, and civil rights issues.

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