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Tehran Police ‘Nipped In The Bud’ Calls For Renewed Demonstrations

Gonabadi dervishes in Pasdaran Avenue, around the house of their leader.

President Hassan Rouhani has said he would not tolerate violence or insults against the police, and his interior minister has called on the revolutionary guards and Baseej militia to deal with any violent movements.

The uncompromising remarks were made as Tehran police say they have “nipped in the bud” a call for renewed demonstrations on Passdaran Avenue, where clashes between police and dervishes turned violent on February 19. At least three policemen and two Baseej militiamen were killed in clashes with protesting dervishes.

The clashes continued early morning February 20 and led to the arrest of more than 300 demonstrators.

Police say 30 policemen and 80 dervishes were injured in the clashes.

Kasra Nouri, one of the dervishes, told Radio Farda that about 100 security agents attacked the Gonabadi dervishes and shot and injured several of them.

The house of dervish leader Nour Ali Tabandeh is located on Passdaran Avenue, which was the site of clashes between police and the dervishes twice before, in late December 2017 and early January.

Monday’s clashes started when the dervishes gathered near a police precinct in Tehran to protest the arrest of fellow dervish Nematollah Riahi.

Official news agency IRNA reported on February 20 that police branded the demonstrators as “hooligans and rebels” and characterized the police’s response as “effective and intelligent,” saying they had effectively “nipped in the bud” calls for further protests.

However, IRNA did not disclose the details of the police’s actions.

IRNA quoted a police official as saying four policemen and Baseej militiamen were killed in the February 19 clashes.

This comes as most other reports put the number of dead security officers at five: three policemen and two militiamen.

Police spokesman Saeed Montazeralmahdi said on February 20 that one Baseej militiaman was run over by a vehicle and another one was stabbed.

The dervishes’ official website has denied the news about the attack on police. The dervishes’ gathering was “peaceful,” and “they did not initiate the clashes,” reported the website.

The Gonabadi dervishes belong to the Sufi order known as Nematollahi Sultan Ali Shahi, which believes in the principles and teachings of 12-Imamite Shi’a Islam. But they believe in separation of politics and religion and potentially offer an alternative to the official ideology of the clerical regime.

The dervishes’ Twitter account reported that several dervishes had died in hospital. However, one of the dervishes, Farhad Nouri, told Radio Farda that he was unable to confirm that report.

The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) also rejected the report about the dervishes’ death in the hospital.

Independent sources have not commented on the report yet.

In the meantime, the dervishes’ channel on social networking platform Telegram reported that three of the injured dervishes are still missing.

The report says Reza Entesari, Kasra Nouri, and Behnoud Rostami were taken to a hospital in Tehran on February 19 but their whereabouts have been unknown since.

The report added that a number of female dervishes initially jailed at Tehran’s Evin Prison were transferred to Gharachak Prison in Varamin, a small town near Tehran.

The report further said that these women were seriously injured and had fractured skulls and hands.

Their transfer to Gharachak reportedly took place after the women were indicted with charges including acting against national security and disrupting peace and order.

Reformist daily Sharq quoted MP Mohammad Javad Fathi on its Twitter page as saying the prosecutor should act against security agents if they beat the dervishes. But from Rouhani's statement it appears that the reformist and conservative factions of the regime have closed ranks against the dervishes.

Meanwhile, another MP, Alireza Rahimi, a member of the parliament’s national security committee, said the Iranian Parliament has reviewed the case in the presence of officials from the police, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Intelligence Ministry.

Mehr News Agency’s report about the case characterized the dervishes as “members of a cult,” while they are Shi’ite Muslims.

In the meantime, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said at a cabinet meeting on February 21, “The government, security forces, and intelligence agencies, as well as the IRGC and Baseej, will not tolerate violent behavior, law-breaking, or extremism, and the judiciary is expected to deal with the perpetrators.”

“The dervishes are reasonable, logical, and moderate, and we would not attribute the incidents on Passdaran Avenue to them,” he added.