Aug 25, 2023
Iran’s Baluchistan Hit by Anti-Government Protests
Thousands of protesters took to the streets across the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan, chanting against the Islamic Republic's oppressive policies, as Iran’s top Sunni cleric called for an end to the country’s "religious government."
Cities including the provincial capital of Zahedan, Rask, Khash and Sarbaz were rocked by protests after Friday prayer on August 25, with the demonstrators shouting "I will avenge the one who took my brother's life," "Release political prisoners" and "Death to the dictator."
They also called for the immediate release of Molavi Fathi Mohammad Naqshbandi, the Sunni Imam of Rask, who was arrested by security forces on August 20.
The cleric, who has voiced support for last year’s nationwide protests, is accused of "dissemination of false information through speeches” and “acting against national security."
Protesters in Rask held placards reading "Free Molana Naqshbandi" and "You were the voice of the oppressed; the oppressed stand with you."
Videos shared by the Haalvsh human rights website showed an extensive deployment of military forces in the city.
In Sarbaz, demonstrators blocked the road leading to Chabahar.
Meanwhile, Molavi Abdulhamid, the outspoken Sunni Friday prayer leader of Zahedan, once again criticized the policies of the country’s Shia leadership and said that religious governments have proved to be ineffective across the world.
Molavi also criticized the Islamic Republic's birth policy.
"First, empower the Iranian people financially, and then lament the scarcity of children," he said. "People have problems filling their stomachs."
Molavi has been a key dissenting voice inside Iran since the eruption of nationwide protests in September 2022, using his sermons to call for fundamental economic, social and political changes in the country.
Zahedan has seen protest rallies almost every Friday since September 30 of last year, when security forces killed nearly 100 people in the deadliest incident in the widespread demonstrations sparked by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
Security forces have responded to the women-led protest movement with brutal force, killing hundreds of people and unlawfully detaining thousands, including dozens of journalists, activists say.
Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.
The protests and clampdown on dissent have been particularly intense in western Kurdish areas and Sistan and Baluchistan, which is home to Iran's Sunni Baluch minority of up to 2 million people.