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Dervish Protester Convicted Of Running Over Police Sentenced To Death

Iranian Gonabadi Dervish, Mohammad Salas who has been accused of killing police officers by bus, during his hearing session in a court in Tehran on Sunday March 11, 2018.

A man accused of driving a bus into a group of security forces in Tehran and killing three of them has been sentenced to “death by retribution.”

Mohamad Salas, a dervish of the Gonabadi order, was convicted of driving a bus into a group of police and plainclothesmen in the heat of bloody clashes between security forces and Gonabadi dervishes February 19.

According to court officials, the victims’ relatives called upon the Islamic Republic’s judiciary officials to punish Salas on the basis of “qissas,” Islamic retribution or “retaliating in kind,” i.e. death.

During the hearings in March, Salas testified that he had lost control of his behavior after his head was fractured in seventeen places during clashes with the police. Furthermore, he repeatedly insisted that he had no intention of killing the policemen but was panicked and trying to flee the clashes.

“The security forces battered me so hard that I lost control. They made me angry. I was afraid that they might come back to the bus and beat me again,” Salas said.

Speaking about his weak eyesight, Salas testified, “I got into the bus to drive it toward the police station. I was driving slowly so that the police could move aside. I flashed my headlights and honked the horn as I went forward. My foot was on the accelerator.”

The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) also cited Salas as saying, “We [dervishes] are human beings, not animals. As I stand here, I ask God to grant patience to the victims’ relatives and forgiveness for myself. I am sad. I’m not saying these things to escape execution. I would love to be executed. I just wanted to drive away from the disturbances. I didn’t go over them [policemen] deliberately. My conscience is clear. It was God’s will; even if fifty people had died… I don’t want to go back to society. I don’t want to live.”

Three weeks before the trial even began, Tehran Police Chief and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) General Hossein Rahimi said March 1 that Salas would be executed for killing the policemen before the end of the [Iranian] year March 20.

The dervishes were protesting the arrest of members of their religious order, as well as rumors that their 91-year-old leader Nourali Tabandeh would soon be detained by police, despite assurances by the authorities that they had no such intention.

Two members of the paramilitary Basij force, which is linked to the hardline conservative IRGC, were also killed in the skirmishes, authorities said.

Some 300 dervishes were reportedly arrested following the violence.

The daughter of one of them told RFE/RL's Radio Farda March 4 that her father died while in custody. Tayebeh Raji said authorities had informed her family that her father, Mohammad Raji, died after falling into a coma caused by "bleeding and injuries."

More than 80 Iran-based political and rights activists said in a statement issued March 3 that they were concerned over "unpleasant reports" regarding conditions for the Gonabadi dervishes and their situation behind bars. The statement, published by opposition websites, called for fair legal processes concerning indictments filed against the detained dervishes, who practice a Sufi denomination of Islam.

"We expect the judiciary to respect the laws and the civil rights of [detainees] fully," the statement said.

Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, is not illegal in Iran, but rights groups accuse the Iranian government of harassment and discrimination against followers of Sufism, including the Gonabadi dervishes, one of the largest Sufi sects.

In March 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights Situation in Iran expressed concern over the state targeting of members of Sufi groups, saying they "continue to face arbitrary arrest, harassment, and detention and are often accused of national security crimes."