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‘Sunnis Face More Problems in Iran’, Prominent Cleric Says

Prominent Iranian Sunni cleric, Molavi Abdulhamid, has called on Sunnis to be allowed to run for the country’s presidency. “Sunnis are facing more problems than Shi’ites in Iran, and securing religion freedom is one of the most important requests Sunnis expect the next president to provide," said Molavi Abdulhamid, in his last sermon, May 5, at Friday Prayer in mainly Sunni city of Zahedan in southeast Iran.

His request contradicts Iran’s constitution, articles 35 and 115, which explicitly stipulate candidates should embrace and endorse the official religion of the country – the Shi’ite branch of Islam.

Calling for Sunnis to have a right to occupy high official positions, Molavi Abdulhamid, 70, denounced discrimination in hiring people for serving in key positions in public sector. “Employment in public sector should be based on the qualification of the applicants, not on their religious or ethnic affiliation.” Zahedan Friday prayer leader said.

Referring to the May 19 election, the outspoken cleric reiterated that Sunnis want a figure at the helm of the presidency who would serve the whole nation, particularly Sunnis, in a beneficial manner. “It is almost forty years since the Islamic Republic has been established in Iran and it is time for the regime ... to eliminate Sunnis' serious concerns.”

In an earlier speech, on April 20, in southeastern city of Saravan, Molavi Abdulhamid had said: “The government should not differentiate between Shi’ites and Sunnis in rights and duties,” and “We believe that articles in the constitution, relating to the presidential elections, should be changed in a manner that would allow Shi’ites and Sunnis to run for the office without any legal restrictions.”

Nevertheless, in a ‘guideline note’, on April 19, the Chairman of the Guardian Council, Ahmad Jannati, 90, called for the disqualification of all non-Muslims nominated for City and Village Councils membership, in constituencies where Muslims form the majority of the population.

According to unofficial statistics, up to 9 per cent of the Iran's population are Sunni Muslims; mostly Kurds in northwest; part of the Arabs in southwest, Khuzestan province; Baluchis in Sistan and Baluchistan province; Larestanis in Larestan and Bandar Abbas; and a smaller number of Persians, Pashtuns and Turkmens in the northeast.

Sunni activists have always accused Iranian authorities of discrimination and practicing sectarian persecution against their community. In July 2015, Tehran municipality, backed by security forces, demolished the only Sunni mosque in the capital, provoking anger among the Sunnis.

In a recent report, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran claimed that Zahedan’s Friday Prayer Leader, Molavi Abdulhamid, is not allowed to travel to anywhere outside Sistan and Baluchistan, save Tehran. Meanwhile, other Iranian Sunni clergy are forbidden to visit Sistan and Baluchistan province, the report said.