Social media users today have been reporting a strong presence of security forces around a hospital in Tehran where the dissident spiritual leader of Gonabadi Sufi order dervishes passed away Tuesday morning.
The 92-year-old Noor-Ali Tabandeh, also known as Majzoub Ali Shah, was a France educated lawyer and the spiritual leader of Gonabadi dervishes. He was also an outspoken critic of Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist), or Iran's theocracy, for which he was imprisoned for nearly two years, spending six months of his sentence in solitary confinement.
"Riot police in armor who are equipped with batons, firearms and tear gas have completely taken over all the streets leading to Zartosht Street [where the hospital is located]," a user tweeted in Persian this afternoon.
A picture posted on Twitter shows a crane parked in the middle of a street to block access to the hospital. Another photo posted on Twitter shows riot police in full gear on bikes in a square leading to the hospital.
According to Ensaf News, an Iranian news website with no known political affiliations, early this afternoon Tabandeh's body was still held by the hospital while a crowd of his followers mourned outside. Police diverted passing cars to a nearby street. Tabandeh's body may be taken to his hometown Gonabad in eastern Iran for burial.
Noor-Ali Tabandeh had been hospitalized for complications arising from old age and his hunger strike in protest to the limitations imposed on him and his followers. He had been under house arrest since February 2018 when hundreds of his followers were arrested for protesting the conditions imposed on their leader.
Many of Tabandeh's followers are still in prison. On November 14 seventy-two imprisoned dervishes who were on hunger strike in protest the restraints imposed on Tabandeh said they were determined to continue till they die. Four of them had to be hospitalized on December 18 but were taken back to prison.
On December 21 Tehran's outspoken lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeqi (Sadeghi) warned about the dangerous health condition of imprisoned dervishes who are on hunger strike. The Iranian authorities have made no comments on Sadeqi's warning.