The head of Tehran’s Justice Department, Gholamhossein Esma’eili has admitted that the trial of hundreds of Gonabadi dervishes is underway at public and Revolutionary Courts behind closed doors.
Earlier, a Telgeram channel close to the Sufi order had disclosed, “Dervishes on trial have been forced to sign a petition against the managers and reporters of Majzooban Noor (Enchanted by Light)”.
Majzooban Noor, a currently inactive website, used to publish news concerning dervishes of Gonabadi order.
Four managers and several reporters from the website have been imprisoned since February’s clashes between dervishes and security forces on Tehran. More than 500 members of the dervish community were arrested on February 20 following clashes with security forces supported by plainclothesmen.
The dervishes were protesting the arrest of members of their religious order, as well as widespread 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.
In an interview with Young Journalists Club (YJC) a news website affiliated with state-run Radio and TV organization, Esma’eili said on Saturday, May 19, “Fifty legal suits concerning clashes at Pasdaran street have been referred to Branch 1180 of Tehran’s Criminal Court.”
However, according to Esma’eili, most of the cases related to Gonabadi dervishes have been presented to Revolutionary Courts, which are used against critics and dissidents and are known for the harsh sentences they hand down.
In the meantime, the head of Branch 1180 of the Revolutionary Courts, Judge Jabbari said, most of the detained dervishes, whose cases have been referred to his branch are charged with “disturbing public peace and order”.
Speaking to judiciary-run Mizan website, Jabbari promised that the dervishes will be “firmly dealt with”.
The Gonabadi dervishes consider themselves followers of Twelver Shi’a Islam, the official state religion in Iran, but authorities have persecuted them for their religious beliefs in recent years, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in the past.
On March 8, authorities placed Tabandeh under house arrest. He was forced to “disown” Majzooban Noor, which led to the inactivity of the site and social media accounts.
Judicial authorities also shut down the Haqiqat publishing house and the Reza Charity institution, both of which belong to Gonabadi dervish members.
Most of the trials, according to human rights activists, are held behind closed doors, while the accused are deprived of access to lawyers.
According to Amnesty International (AI), at least 11 women from Iran’s Gonabadi dervish religious minority have been arbitrarily detained in inhumane conditions without access to lawyers since February 20, following the violent dispersal of a protest held by the Gonabadi dervishes in Tehran.
AI issued an Urgent Action on March 29 condemning the arbitrary arrest and ill treatment of the women from the Gonabadi religious minority.
“On February 19, security forces violently arrested at least 60 women from Iran’s persecuted Gonabadi dervish community for participating in a protest in Tehran which turned violent after security forces resorted to beatings, firearm use, water cannons, and tear gas to disperse the crowd,” AI said.
The women were taken to the Vozara detention center, where they said they were subjected to intrusive body searches by female officers, intimidating interrogations, insults, and yelling, AI noted.
While the trial of hundreds of dervishes is under way, Sufi bus driver Mohammad Salas, who was sentenced to death in Iran for running over three policeman, says he was forced to confess after being tortured while under interrogation.
“Salas told me he was so stunned by the blows during interrogation that he was not aware of what was happening,” his attorney Zeinab Taheri told Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on May 15.
After meeting Salas at Rajaee Shahr Prison near Tehran on May 14, Taheri said, “Extracting confessions like this has no legal validity. Salas revealed he was almost tortured to death by agents to the point that he suffered 17 skull fractures, nearly lost his sight, and suffered serious hearing loss. He was forced to make confessions under these conditions.”
Referring to the hundreds of dervishes on trial, HRW noted, “Attacks on police forces are criminal acts, but Iranian authorities should not extend criminal responsibility to an entire group of protesters. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because it is an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.”