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Heavy Repression of Iranian Sufis Indicates Rohani’s Path

12:17 PM, Jul 22, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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The election of new Iranian president Hassan Rohani, a subordinate-level cleric, has led to much conjecture in Western media about his possible moderation in domestic, foreign and especially nuclear policy. But news of heavy prison sentences against seven spiritual Sufi webmasters and lawyers, held without trial since 2011, indicates continued repression as the path his administration will follow.

Hassan Rouhani

Judgments against the seven members of the Gonabadi-Nimatullahi metaphysical movement, a Shia Muslim body, were announced on July 15. The Gonabadi Sufis are the most prominent “public” Sufi group in Iran. As a leading country in the development of Sufism, Iran includes millions of adherents to the tradition, but many—for centuries before the rise of the clerical dictatorship in Tehran—have maintained public silence about their identity.

The Gonabadi-Nimatullahi prisoners were associated with the website Majzooban Noor (The Alluring Light). The accusations against them were all based on intellectual dissidence from the dictates of Khomeinist radicalism. They were found guilty of creating the Gonabadi website in an effort to disturb national security, broadcast propaganda against the regime, insult Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and disrupt public order.

The Gonabadi-Nimatullahi Sufis are mainly dedicated to esoteric teachings, but their website, which includes translations and clippings in English, has irritated the Tehran tyrants by its dissemination of news on human rights, women’s rights, arrests, sentences, and executions.

Judge Abulghasem Salavati, according to the Brussels-based International Organization for the Preservation of Human Rights in Iran (IOPHRI), sentenced Hamid Reza Moradi, director of the Majzooban Noor site, to ten and a half years in prison. Reza Entesari, a photojournalist for the site, received eight and a half years. Entesari had been physically abused by security personnel, as reported here.

The other five Sufis, lawyers and members of the board of the website, received penal terms of seven and a half years. They include Mostafa Daneshjou, Farshid Yadollahi, Amir Eslami, Omid Behrouzi, and Afshin Karampour.

The Gonabadi prisoners have been barred from membership in political parties or groups and participation in any form of media or Internet activities for five years each, once they are released—and if they are released.

As head of branch 15 of the revolutionary court in Tehran, Judge Salavati has been known for his harsh treatment of the Sufis, including a restriction on their transfer to hospitals. Hamid Reza Moradi remains in danger of a foot amputation because of torture by state officials. He also suffers lumbar disc, arteriosclerosis, and cardiovascular diseases, but has been prevented from receiving medical treatment for eight months by Salavati’s decree.

Mostafa Daneshjou, a pulmonary patient, was taken to a local hospital in January 2013 but was sent immediately back to his cell in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison at Salavati’s command. He was moved to another therapeutic facility on July 8 following a serious respiratory attack but was returned to Evin after a week, without completion of his treatment.

Salavati stated that further hospital care could only be authorized by the Iranian Ministry of Information. Eslami suffers heart disease, Yadollahi needs dental treatment, and Behrouzi and Karampour also require attention by physicians.

The seven Sufis refused to participate in the legal proceedings against them or to offer a defense. They argued that the court lacked jurisdiction and that the prosecution was marred by numerous illegal actions.

The defendants told the Gonabadi website, “These are absolutely unjust convictions based on an unjust process, but objecting to the ruling would be useless and we do not plan an appeal.” In the Evin lockup, the seven Sufis were beaten, denied family visits, refused information on their trial date and content of the indictment, and kept in solitary confinement.

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