Iran's outspoken Sunni religious leader Mowlana Abdolhamid

Iran’s Sunni Leader Urges Dialogue Between Government, Dissenters

Saturday, 04/13/2024

Iran’s top Sunni cleric Mowlavi Abdolhamid has once again urged the government to hold “constructive” talks with protesters as widespread dissatisfaction has largely delegitimized the Islamic Republic over the past years.

“We believe in dialogue, but not the kind of dialogue that results in no action. We believe in a constructive dialogue that results in accepting the truth,” said the top religious leader of Iran’s largely Sunni Baluch (Baloch) population in his Friday prayer sermons in the Makki Jameh Mosque of Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchestan.

The situation has recently become more tense in the province as the insurgent Sunni Baluch group known as Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) has intensified its operations against Iranian security forces in southeastern Iran. The group advocates for enhanced rights and improved living conditions for the Baluch ethnic minority.

On Tuesday, six law enforcement officers were killed by Jaish al-Adl militants during an ambush on police vehicles along the Sib and Suran county route. The group also launched simultaneous attacks recently against military posts in Chabahar and Rask last week, killing 16 police forces; the clashes also claimed the lives of 18 Jaish al-Adl militants.

On April 5, Abdolhamid urged the government and the militant group to avoid further “gunfights and bloodshed,” stressing that the two sides should “sit together and talk through their problems.

His call for negotiations between Tehran and Jaish al-Adl immensely angered the Iranian government, which has designated the group as “terrorist.” IRGC-affiliated Fars and Tasnim news agencies harshly criticized the Sunni cleric, with Fars saying he “knowingly or unknowingly” serves the interests of “Western political and security apparatus.”

In another response, Mojtaba Azizi, the government-backed Shiite imam of Friday prayers in Zabol, another town in Sistan-Baluchestan, accused Abdolhamid, without naming him, of backing Jaish al-Adl militants. The authorities must deal decisively with the militants, including “the Israeli and evil movement in the Makki Mosque,” stated Azizi in what was seen as a direct attack at Abdolhamid.

In response to the government-orchestrated attacks, Abdolhamid blamed the regime for fanning the flames of discontent and violence in the country by refusing to listen to the demands of the protesters.

“You don’t negotiate with armed people, but have you negotiated with unarmed peaceful protesters? Have you talked to political prisoners about their demands?” asked the Sunni cleric, further saying that the regime authorities should have heard and fulfilled the demands of the Iranian nation which has been protesting over the past two years.

Expressing his opposition to “any kind of violence from anyone and any party,” Abdolhamid firmly stressed that he encourages and supports “civil efforts” to change the status quo.

In his sermon, the cleric also referred to the government’s harsh measures to enforce compulsory hijab laws in Iran. “Violence begets violence … If you want to enforce religious precepts in society, do not resort to violence. It will not work.”

The Iranian police has announced that it will adopt stricter measures to impose compulsory hijab as of Saturday and will deal with those who “violate” the laws.

Abdolhamid has turned into an outspoken and staunch critic of Iran's rulers following its harsh crackdown on the 2022 nationwide uprising triggered by the death in morality-police custody of Mahsa Amini. On September 30, 2022, security forces killed more than 90 protesters near Abdolhamid's mosque in Zahedan.

One of the latest victims of the Iranian regime’s repressive hijab policy was Armita Geravand, a sixteen-year-old girl. She died on October 28, 2023 after about a month in coma for brain damage she suffered during a violent encounter with hijab enforcers deployed at Tehran’s subway stations.

Follow developments on Iran International's Live coverage of ongoing tensions between Iran and Israel.

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