A heavy presence of Iranian forces has been noted in Zahedan in the Sistan and Baluchestan Province of southeastern Iran as activists warn of an intended crackdown on Friday protests near the mosque in the city.
Zahedan has been the site of some of the most intense protests against the Iranian regime since the demonstrations began over four months ago. In September, about 100 men, women and children were murdered by Iranian forces while protesting, in a massacre referred to as “Bloody Friday.” Since then, protests have taken place after Friday Prayers every week.
Mowlavi Abdolhamid, the Friday Prayer Imam of Zahedan and one of the leading Sunni clerics in Iran, has repeatedly spoken out against the violence used against protesters.
Videos and photos published by the local media outlet Haalvsh purported to show Iranian forces setting up checkpoints at all entry and exit points around Zahedan.
The sudden checkpoints have reportedly led to heavy traffic in the area and are believed to be intended to prevent people from arriving to Friday prayers to protest. Civilians passing through the checkpoints are reportedly questioned and searched.
Haalvsh added that Friday prayers would take place as scheduled, adding that the forces on the ground were not even sure why they were setting up more checkpoints as they are “just following orders.”
Iranian officials intensify rhetoric against Sunnis in Zahedan
Last week, Iran’s official newspaper, Iran, published an article attacking Abdolhamid and calling the Grand Makki Mosque of Zahedan the “main seat of sedition, rebellion and insecurity.”
The newspaper claimed that protests have ended elsewhere in the country and that Abdolhamid was trying to “incite the youth” to continue protesting.
Abdolhamid’s office responded to the newspaper, saying “The officials of the Iran newspaper apparently do not know or have forgotten that on October 8, a bloody massacre and an unprecedented crime took place in Zahedan, during which nearly 100 people – including a woman and several children who had come to pray – were killed in this area.”
The imam’s office decried the fact that Iranian officials had not condemned the massacre or arrested security personnel who took part in it, stating “People see and analyze these things. The only thing they can do is to raise the voice of their loved ones’ oppression every Friday by protesting to the authorities.”
Abdolhamid additionally noted that people wanted to take up arms and avenge the people killed, but local leaders, including the imam, had worked to stop them to protect the peace in the hopes that the authorities would take action against the personnel who carried out the massacre.
“If the officials of the government newspaper really want to know who are the real provocateurs of the people, then they should know well that those who designed and executed the scenario of Zahedan’s Bloody Friday have provoked these people,” wrote Abdolhamid’s office. “The ‘destructive role against national unity and security’ is played by those who have shed the blood of dozens of praying youth.”
Mowlavi Abdul Majid Muradzahi, an advisor to Abdolhamid, told Radio Farda on Thursday that the buildup of security forces is taking place because Ahmad-Reza Radan, the newly appointed chief of police in Iran, wants to “create terror.”
Muradzahi rejected claims that the mosque in Zahedan is under siege, stating “I don’t think it will be a particular problem and they will commit another mistake and I don’t think they will be so imprudent.”
In December, the Black Reward hacktivist group leaked a special bulletin prepared for IRGC commander-in-chief Hossein Salami which stated that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had said that Abdolhamid should be “tolerated for the time being” and that “there should be no action to make him angry again and call Sunnis to the street.”
The supreme leader added that the plan concerning Hamid is “to gradually remove his ability.”
The Baloch Activists Campaign, which observes human rights violations of the Baloch minority in Sistan and Baluchestan, reported on Wednesday that at least 179 Baloch people were executed by Iran last year, a third of all executions in the country.
The campaign added that the actual number of executions is likely much higher, but accurate information concerning executions is difficult to obtain. Over 500 Iranians are estimated to have been executed by the regime last year.