Iran’s top Sunni cleric Mowlavi Abdolhamid has rejected allegations by regime media as a smear campaign aimed at justifying the crackdown on the Sunni minority.

During his sermon, the outspoken Friday prayer leader of Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sunni-majority Sistan-Baluchestan, rejected reports by Revolutionary Guard-affiliated Fars news agency this week about the Makki Jameh Mosque of Zahedan. The mosque has been the center of anti-regime rallies since the Women, Life, Freedom movement started last year.

Citing an unnamed "informed source,” Fars reported Wednesday that officials at the Makki Mosque had imported 80 mining computers with the help of foreign elements and were involved in cryptocurrency mining. Earlier in the week, the IRGC mouthpiece claimed that security forces have seized "two shipments of 22 communication devices and Starlink satellite internet kits sent by the US National Security Agency for Abdolhamid’s office." Fars said five people were also arrested for facilitating the transfer.

Fars said the shipment of these equipment was aimed at "recreating turmoil in Zahedan," "laying the groundwork for secure communication between domestic agents and foreign entities outside Iran," and "facilitating their propaganda and media activities in the virtual space."

The agency did not provide any evidence to support its claims and no security or intelligence agency has repeated or confirmed such allegations.

The Grand Makki Mosque of Zahedan, the largest Sunni mosque in Iran

Addressing the false accusations, Abdolhamid stated that media outlets "close to the government and influential bodies" should reconsider their loyalty to the truth instead of “blatantly engaging in lying and making accusations against critics, opponents, advocates of justice, and proponents of legitimate freedoms.”

"Media outlets like Fars News Agency have resorted to baseless accusations and falsehoods against critics. Such disinformation aims more to sideline critics and disturb public opinion. This is not the solution; the solution lies in listening to people's opinions and criticisms."

Abdolhamid added, "It is in the best interest of the nation that newspapers and media outlets remain free. Media is meant to reflect reality,” criticizing the authorities that summon or threaten the public, media owners, and journalists for even slight criticism.

Since the war broke out in Gaza after Hamas' terror attack on Israel on October 7, Abdolhamid has repeatedly rejected the regime’s calls for the destruction of Israel, saying that neither side should be destroyed.

The Sunni cleric has been a voice of moderation and justice since September 2022, when the death in custody of Mahsa Amini sparked the boldest uprising against the Islamic Republic regime. He is a vocal critic of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his absolute authority. Earlier this year, the hacktivist group Black Reward targeted the data servers of Fars news agency, and released several documents to media indicating that Khamenei is dismayed by Abdolhamid’s fiery remarks and ordered underlings to tarnish his reputation. Iran’s Sunni minority is heavily persecuted, and the cleric has long been an advocate of minority rights, to the ire of the regime, as nearly 15 million Sunnis – mainly Baluch and Kurds -- listen to him.

Human rights media outlet Haalvsh, a website dedicated to human rights and events in Sistan-Baluchestan, has reported the presence of military forces and intense security measures around the Makki Mosque since Friday morning.

Regime agents and blocked the roads and streets leading to the mosque, set up checkpoints, and conducted physical inspections of passersby and people who wanted to attend the Friday prayers.

Like every week for over the past year, the citizens held a peaceful demonstration after they left the mosque. The people of the Sistan-Baluchestan, with Zahedan as provincial capital, have been holding weekly protests after security forces opened fire at peaceful protesters, killing nearly 100 on September 30, 2022, a day known as the Bloody Friday of Zahedan.

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