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Why Iranian Sufis Do Not Believe in Tehran’s ‘New Diplomacy’

1:34 PM, Jan 6, 2014 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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The ascension of Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani supposedly represented a “period of hope.” That may be true for Western negotiators hoping to spend more time in Geneva, but not for the Sufis and other religious minorities of Iran, whom the regime in Tehran continues to repress.

Sufis, let us first observe, are not the only victims of state reprisal in Rouhani’s Iran. Rouhani’s term began on August 3. Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer who had been jailed in 2011, was let out of prison in September. She had been sentenced to 11 years’ incarceration – reduced on appeal to six years – plus a 20-year ban on practicing law, and a 20-year prohibition on foreign travel. Her release was advertised intensively and came just before Rouhani’s extravagantly-promoted visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Sotoudeh, whose clients included 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, was accused of “acting against national security, collusion and propaganda against the state, and membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center.”

On December 13, 2013, a delegation from the European Parliament met with Sotoudeh in Tehran to present her belatedly with the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The visit by the Europeans was condemned by hard-line Iranian clerics. Two weeks later, on December 27, Sotoudeh and her family returned from a funeral to their household and found it ransacked, with everything of value stolen.

Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, intimated that Islamic Republic official personnel were involved in the violation of the family’s privacy, commenting, “Everybody knows that … all kinds of different security and judicial organizations in this country have the power and the authority to be able to find the perpetrators in 48 hours. We will wait for them to announce the results of their actions,” Khandan said.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, which was financed originally by human rights activists in the Netherlands and is now headquartered in the U.S., compared the raid on Sotoudeh’s premises pointedly with earlier such episodes. They mentioned a 2009 descent on Shirin Ebadi’s house and office by 150 “demonstrators,” and a similar siege of the residence of former opposition presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi in 2010. In the aftermath of the Green protest movement against ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Karroubi’s property was swarmed “by dozens of armed plainclothes [police]. The attacks took place over three days and resulted in graffiti, vandalism, broken windows, and shootings inside Karroubi’s home.” In both the Ebadi and Karroubi incidents, Iranian uniformed police failed to prevent the invasions.

While Nasrin Sotoudeh is not a Sufi, her imprisonment was publicized widely by the International Organization to Preserve Human Rights in Iran (IOPHRI), based in the Iranian émigré community in the West. While IOPHRI has taken the initiative in reporting on all atrocities committed by the dictatorship against dissidents, it is concerned particularly with persecution of the Gonabadi-Nimatullahi Sufis, a Shia Muslim body.

Iran and its culture are known worldwide as centers of Sufi mysticism. Yet because the Gonabadi disciples, who represent a leading element of Iranian Sufism, oppose the abuses of human rights and law committed by the Tehran establishment, they have been attacked savagely.

On December 23, the Paris office of Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh, the exiled leader of the Gonabadi Sufis and head of IOPHRI, was turned upside down, with the loss of personal research data storage media, in a fashion anticipating the incursion against Sotoudeh and her family.

Iranian officials may polish their manners when meeting with foreigners like Secretary of State John Kerry. Within their borders and abroad, however, when dealing with Iranian opponents, they are aggressively lawless.

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