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Iran Sunni Leader Calls For Release Of Outspoken Cleric

Prominent Sunni cleric Mawlana Abdolhamid in a meeting of Hassan Rouhani's supporters in Tehran, just after election on May 26, 2017.
Prominent Sunni cleric Mawlana Abdolhamid in a meeting of Hassan Rouhani's supporters in Tehran, just after election on May 26, 2017.

The spiritual leader of Iran's Sunni population has called for the immediate release of a fellow clergyman, who has been behind bars since November 28.

"The Islamic Republic authorities must raise the level of their tolerance, and address problems through discussion", Mawlana Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi, said on Saturday, December 14. He is considered as the religious leader of Sunnis in Iran and his movements have been restricted by intelligence organs.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general of the Council of Sunni Theologians of Iran (CSTI), Hassan Amini, also issued a statement demanding the release of the Friday prayer Imam of Peshamag, Sunni clergyman Molavi Fazl al-Rahman Kouhi.

Fazl al-Rahman Kouhi, outspoken Sunni clergyman
Fazl al-Rahman Kouhi, outspoken Sunni clergyman

Kouhi, the Friday Prayer Imam (leader) of Sunnis in Peshamag, in the city of Sarbaz, southeast Iran, was arrested on November 28, after being summoned to Special Clerical Court in Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad.

In a sermon on November 22, Molavi Kouhi had lambasted the Islamic Republic's authorities for the mistreatment of demonstrators in November, who came out to protest a sudden threefold increase in gasoline prices.

Kouhi has a history of critical comments against the Islamic republic, including its involvement in the Syrian war.

Referring to Kouhi's recent fiery speech that led to his arrest, Amini said, "Kouhi's comments were a courageous expression of religious matters, in obvious support of legal and legitimate rights of Sunnis of Iran."

Nearly 90% of Iranian Muslims are Shi'ites, and about 10% are Sunnis. Some believe the number of Sunnis in Iran is much higher, but it is hard to know the exact ratio of Sunni-Shi'ite population. Most Sunnis in Iran are Kurds, Turkmens, and Baluchis, living in the northwest, northeast, south, and southeast of the country.

Deploring the heavy-handed suppression of the protesters, Kouhi had noted, "It is not glorious; fathers do not gloat over beating their children."

Meanwhile, Kouhi had dismissed the authorities' claim that increasing gasoline prices would not have a domino effect on the costs of other goods and products.

"Such comments are merely deceptive," Kouhi had reiterated.

Kouhi's arrest triggered a series of protests on November 30 in Sunni-populated areas, and the security forces fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowds. Several people were injured in the shooting.

Kouhi, has always been a vociferous critic of the Islamic Republic policies and specifically its paramilitary, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

Two years ago, Kouhi was arrested for unknown charges, an exiled dissident website, Kaleme, reported in April 2017.

Zahedan's Prosecutor Ali Movahdi Rad claimed that Kouhi had been summoned after being given "several warnings about minding national solidarity" and accused him of "delivering furious speeches against internal and external security issues" and "urging people to join terrorist groups."

However, according to Kaleme, Kouhi had criticized the IRGC for deploying young Sunni Iranians to fight in Syria.

The Baloch Activists Campaign (BAC) also announced at the time Kouhi was arrested for issuing a fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) against fighting in the Syrian civil war and accused the IRGC of "taking advantage of poor Sunni youths" by dispatching them as soldiers to the war-torn country.

A week after his arrest, Kouhi was released on April 10, 2017, with a $31,000 bail.