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Iranians vs. ‘Hanging Judges’

4:29 PM, Aug 5, 2014 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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At Dasht, a village in Isfahan, the Gonabadis said in June, official clerics began inciting local residents against the Sufis by describing the mystics as “unbelievers” and “Wahhabis.” The identification of Sufis with Wahhabis appeared particularly bizarre. Since the rise of their movement in central Arabia in the 18th century, Wahhabis have been the most violent enemies of Sufism. Gonabadis warned that the intent of the state religious officials appeared to be to continue the harassment that produced the wrecking, in February 2009, of the tomb in Isfahan of the 19th-century poet Nasir Ali, which had been used since 2002 by the Sufis.

On July 11, 2014, the Gonabadi Sufis announced that the northern Iranian city of Sari, near the coast of the Caspian Sea, was the scene of a trial by the local Special Clerical Court, which removed a Shia Muslim cleric, Mohammad Nouri, from his religious duties for affiliation with the Gonabadi Sufis. The only offenses with which Nouri was charged were “joining the Sufis while in clerical costume” and “participating in Gonabadi ceremonies in Tehran and other cities.” The court deemed involvement with the Sufis to be “disrespectful and defamatory of clerical [status] and contrary to the dignity of a cleric.” Nouri said he had been interrogated and threatened repeatedly by anonymous agents of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

Salavati’s associate as a “hanging judge,” Mohammad Moghiseh, has meanwhile sentenced eight Iranian Facebook users—six men and two women—to a total of 127 years in prison. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI), such verdicts “go beyond what Iran’s own laws dictate.” Under Article 134 of the new Islamic Penal Code, “the maximum sentence for the suspects should have been 7.5 years [each]” if they were proved to have “acted against national security.”

Instead, the eight Facebook users, who were detained in late summer and autumn 2013, were ordered incarcerated as follows: Roya Saberinejad Nobakht, 20 years behind bars; Amir Golestani, 20 years and one day; Masoud Ghasemkhani, 19 years, 91 days; Fariborz Kardarfar, 18 years, 91 days; Seyed Masoud Seyed Talebi, 15 years, one day; Amin (Farid) Akramipour, 13 years; Mehdi Reyshahri, 11 years; Naghmeh Shahsavandi Shirazi, 7 years and 91 days.

The Facebook group were tried for “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the supreme leader (Ali Khamenei),” “assembly and collusion against national security,” “blasphemy,” “creating public anxiety,” and “spreading falsehoods.” A source requesting anonymity told ICHRI that the six male prisoners have been transferred to the “home” of the Gonabadi Sufis in ward 350 at Evin Prison. The source said, “Some of them also face the charge of ‘possession of vulgar CDs.’ When the agents went to their homes for their arrests, they found some original, uncensored CDs of Hollywood films. In the charges it is stated that they published vulgar photographs in cyberspace, and the example provided was the photograph of a man and a woman embracing. . . . From what I saw, not only are these individuals not political activists, they don’t even know the alphabet of politics! They were isolated individuals from different layers of society who merely had some activities in cyberspace.”

The ferocity of the regime’s attack on innocuous Facebook users parallels the brutality of the effort to silence the Gonabadi Sufis. Like Sufis in many Muslim countries, the Gonabadi-Nimatullahis concentrated historically on sacred devotions. But Tehran’s mania for identifying and suppressing nonconformists of any variety pushed the authorities to define traditional religious practices in Iran, the world’s leading country in Sufi activities, as subversive and menacing to the clerical dictatorship.

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