Iran’s Sunnis demand greater religious freedom
As minority’s religious leader calls for political acknowledgement, Tehran blames Israel for Sunni terror attacks.
Clerics at Iran's Assembly of Experts meeting Photo: Raheb Homavandi/Reuters
With tensions rising in Iran’s volatile Sunni-dominated Sistan-Baluchistan, a
leading Sunni cleric called on Tehran on Saturday to give greater religious
freedom and political acknowledgement to the Islamic Republic’s Sunni
“The question is why [Sunnis] cannot be minister,
vice-minister, ambassador and governor? It is our legal right to be acknowledged
and participate in the fate of our country,” Molavi Abdol-Hameed said, according
to Sunni Online, an Iranian Sunni news outlet.
Abdol-Hameed said that
though Iran’s Sunnis are technically guaranteed rights under the Iranian
constitution, in practice they are discriminated against including in the
workplace and in terms of religion.
Sunni Muslims in Iran make up only
about 10 percent of the Islamic Republic’s population and in recent decades have
complained that Iran has denied them permission to build mosques in large
Iranian cities, including in Tehran.
In Sistan-Baluchistan, the
second-largest, most desolate and poorest of Iran’s 31 provinces, Sunnis are the
The province, which borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, is
home to the Sunni Muslim Baluchi ethnic group, who say Iran’s Shi’ite leadership
has done little to develop the remote region and has failed to deal with the
extensive drug-smuggling and gun-running problems that plague the
The province is considered one of Tehran’s largest domestic
security problems and has seen a number of terrorist attacks by the Jundollah
(“Soldiers of God”) organization, which emerged in 2002 claiming rights for the
Sunni Baluchi peoples.
Jundollah, whose leader Abdul Malek Rigi was
executed in 2010 and which both Iran and the US has designated a terrorist
group, has claimed responsibility for a number of large terrorist attacks in the
Last week, a new Sunni rebel group with links to Jundollah
claimed responsibility for the latest suicide bombing that took place in
Chabahar city on October 19 and which Iran said killed two members of Iran’s
The group, Harakat Ansar Iran, named Jundollah leader Rigi
as their spiritual leader, and said that the suicide attack, codenamed Operation
Ra’ad, had deliberately targeted a meeting of Iranian Basij and IRGC
Ansar Iran also called on local Baluchis to join in attacks,
saying in a separate statement that the Sunni ethnic group suffer from poverty
As in the past, Iran immediately rushed to accuse
Israel of aiding Baluchi rebels in the bombing.
“These [Sunni] groups are
given logistical support by the spy services of the Zionist regime and take
action in line with the policies of this illegitimate regime,” MP Mohammad Reza
Mohseni Thani of Iran’s Majlis (parliament) Security and Foreign Policy
Committee told the Iranian Student News Agency’s Persian service last
Another Majlis security committee member, MP Mohammad Hassan
Asafari, told ISNA that Ansar Iran was attempting to foment “war between Shias
Alluding to a crackdown against Sunni rebels in Sistan and
Baluchistan, Asafari said that over the past 19 months, Iran has arrested or
killed over 250 people who tried to enter Iran to carry out terror
Over the weekend, Ansar Iran said that Iranian intelligence
officials had threatened and abducted Sunnis in connection with the October
According to Ansar Iran, security agents raided Miskutan
village in the city of Nikshahr and arrested four relatives of Ansar Iran
members, named as Ghalandar Amiri, Muhammad Amin Amiri, Kheir Muhammad Naroui
and Amin Naroui. The security services threatened to execute the four men if the
terror attacks did not stop, Ansar Iran claimed.
As with past crackdowns
in Sistan- Baluchistan, Iran’s state media did not report the arrests, although
the Persianlanguage Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said that the
intelligence and security services had begun to arrest the relatives of
opposition leaders in Nikshahr. The location of those arrested is unknown, the
In his speech, Abdol-Hameed also criticized Iran for what he
called the “vivid growth” of capital punishment in the country, noting that most
executions take place in Sistan-Baluchistan.
His comments came after Iran
executed three men in the province last week, after convicting them for a
December 2010 bombing in Chabahar city that killed 39 Shi’ites, and for which
Jundollah claimed responsibility.
The Iranian press named the three men
as Yahya Charizehi, Abdoljalil Kahazehi and Abdolbasset Rigi.