Without directly using the term “house arrest,” the leader of the Gonabadi dervishes says he has been confined to his residence.
In a video message, the 91-year-old Nour Ali Tabandeh said he hoped the restrictions imposed on him and other Gonabadi dervishes would soon be lifted.
Calling his followers the “faghir” (poor) and “soulmates,” Tabendeh assured them he is physically well and that they needn’t worry about his health.
“I cannot get out of the house, but I am free inside the residence,” he said in the video on March 6.
On February 16, for the second time in less than two weeks, plain-clothed officers affiliated with the intelligence organs swarmed Pasdaran Avenue in northern Tehran, where Tabandeh’s residence is located.
Gonabadi dervishes rushed to the scene to force the agents away.
After 7 a.m. on February 19, clashes broke out between the supporters of Tabandeh and security and Baseej (the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ militia) forces.
Hundreds of dervishes were detained while many more were battered. Footage of dervishes with head injuries and broken teeth and jaws were widely circulated on social media. Three policemen and a member of paramilitary Baseej were also killed.
Tabandeh, in written statements attributed to him, called on his followers to exercise self-restraint, stay calm, and keep away from his residence.
Nevertheless, many dervishes had already come from across Iran and assembled by Tabandeh’s house to “defend” him and stop intelligence agents from raising a checkpoint near their leader’s residence.
Among them was an Iran-Iraq war veteran and former commander of the IRGC, Mohammad Raji, who was battered and arrested during the clashes and later died in custody.
Raji’s daughter Tayyebeh told Radio Farda on March 5 that security forces had refused her hand over her father’s body to the family unless they agreed to have him buried at night without a ceremony.
The veteran’s relatives insist he died in police custody, but Iran’s judiciary has dismissed the claims, maintaining Raji died in clashes with security forces.
Meanwhile, the official website of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei published footage of his meeting with the relatives of the Baseej member allegedly killed in the clashes.
The dervishes have at least twice, in 2005 and 2010, asked Khamenei to personally interfere and stop security and intelligence operations against their Sufi order.
The operation against Gonabadi dervishes, which began in early 2000 and led to demolishing their places of worship across the country, has intensified in recent months.
Many conservatives, including ayatollahs, officially recognized as Shi’ite “sources of emulation” accuse dervishes of being “spies” in collaboration with a “foreign enemy.”