The title of Ferghe News, an Iran-based website, means “Cult News.” It is dedicated mainly to defaming Sufi Muslims. But Ferghe News, following the ideological posture of the Iranian clerical dictatorship, also condemns the Saudi-based Wahhabi sect (historically the most violent enemies of the Sufis), the Baha’is, never favored by Khomeinist Tehran, and “New Age” movements.
Ferghe News and its scandalmongering are anything but frivolous or trivial. They represent a malign use of the Internet to support the suppression of dissident Iranian Sufis and to gin up criminal charges against them. In a recent post, the site described indoctrination against Sufis as an element of the activities in “jihad training camps” at Azad University, in Khorramabad, capital of Lorestan province in western Iran.
Typical headlines in Ferghe News accuse Sufis of rape, murder, opium-smoking, corruption, serving as U.S. agents, affiliation with Freemasonry, and influence over the Green movement that emerged all too briefly to challenge the questionable results of the second election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iranian president in 2009. (Masons are a conspiratorial hobgoblin for many Muslims. Sunnis blame them for undermining the Ottoman caliphate, and Shias accuse them of serving Britain against Persian interests more than a century ago.)
The online persecutor of the spiritual Sufis has assailed the two largest Sunni Sufi movements (known as tariqat or “pathways”), the Qadiris and Naqshbandis, and other such bodies. But Ferghe News reserves its worst denunciations for the Shia Gonabadi-Nimatullahi Sufis, the leading Sufi trend in Shia Iran and in the Iranian diaspora.
The Gonabadi-Nimatullahi group is named for the 15th-century poet Noorud’din Nimatullah Veli, whose verse is widely read and loved by Iranians. But the Gonabadi Sufis do not accept the theocratic doctrine of “governance by the jurisconsult,” invented by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to justify the monopoly on power by his disciples after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Western observers pick through the Iranian media looking for indications, however small, that Ahmadinejad’s successor as president, Hassan Rohani, will ameliorate Tehran’s confrontational posture toward the world. Meanwhile they ignore mountains of evidence of continued internal repression in the clerical state.
In July, seven Gonabadi webmasters and attorneys, confined in Iran’s infamous Evin Prison, were sentenced to more than 56 years in jail, with a prohibition on membership in political groups and media or Internet activities for five years after their presumed release. Their indictment employed the idiom of Feghe News, alleging they had “joined the anti-security cult of Sufism.” They were responsible for the Gonabadi website Majzooban Noor (The Alluring Light).
Two additional participants in Majzooban Noor, Alireza Roshan, who is a distinguished and internationally-recognized poet, and Mostafa Abdi, are held in Evin. Roshan was convicted of violating national security, with a one-year jail term, which was confirmed by an appeals court. Abdi’s case has not been settled.
In the meantime, a second group of four Gonabadis, held at Adel Abad prison in the southwest Iranian city of Shiraz, have been penalized by the local Revolutionary Court. Saleh Moradi, who led a hunger strike in the Shiraz prison from January to April this year to protest the solitary confinement of the Evin inmates, received three years in prison and three years in internal exile in Hormozgan province, on the southern Iranian coast.
According to Human Rights Watch, the remaining three Shiraz victims were Farzaneh Nouri, who received two years in jail and three years of exile in Khuzestan province, on the Iranian frontier with Iraq Behzad Nouri, given the same two years of incarceration with three years of exile in Bushehr province, between Khuzestan and Hormozgan; and Farzad Darvish, punished by one year behind bars and three years of internal exile in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan on the border with Pakistan.
These four Shiraz Gonabadis were charged with “forming an anti-state terrorist group,” “participation in demonstrations intended to overthrow the government,” “hatred of God”—a vague term for non-conformist activities, but which may be treated as a capital offense in Iran—and possession of illegal weapons.
Five more Gonabadis are still locked up in Shiraz: Kasra Nouri, Seyed Ebrahim Bahrami, Mohammad-Ali Sadeghi, Mohammad-Ali Dehghan, and Mohsen Esmaili. Kasra Nouri had joined Saleh Moradi in the solidarity hunger strike with the Evin captives. Kasra Nouri was found guilty in April on charges of involvement with the Gonabadi website, with a prison term of four years and four months.
On August 23, Kasra Nouri was briefly taken to a prison infirmary for treatment of pulmonary infection and fever but was given some non-specific medicine and immediately returned to the cells.
This series of cases emerged from clashes around Shiraz in 2011, involving state officials and the Basij, the irregular militia of the dictatorship, on one side, and Gonabadi members on the other. In those events, one Sufi, Vahid Banani, was killed, and three more were wounded by gunfire. The Iranian authorities conducted a general roundup of Gonabadi Sufis in the Shiraz region, in which as many as 100 people were arrested, tortured, or put on trial, and the houses and businesses of Gonabadi Sufis were destroyed. The Majzooban Noor personnel were then detained in Tehran and Shiraz.
The main confrontation at that time occurred in Kavar, a Shiraz region village. It had been provoked by the anti-Sufi preaching of a fanatical cleric, Alireza Shahbazi, who had traveled through the Shiraz district distributing a CD calling on local Muslims to attack the Sufis. The indomitable Gonabadi activists Saleh Moradi and Kasra Nouri have been joined by an academic, Gholam-Reza Shirzadi, in a legal complaint against Shahbazi, for libeling the Sufis and inciting violence against them. On August 20, Shahbazi was supposed to appear at a hearing of the Clerical Court at Kavar, but Shahbazi did not show up, although he was defended in his absence. The proceeding against him will be transferred to the theological center at Qom, a city where the Gonabadi Sufis have been persecuted brutally, and it is unlikely they will get a fair hearing against Shahbazi.
Early in July, 35 non-Sufi Iranian political prisoners issued a statement against the persecution of the “Evin Seven” Gonabadis. The signatories alleged that the prosecutors, ignoring that the Sufis have lived in a “harmonious, peaceful and stable” way for centuries in Iran, revealed a lack of knowledge and understanding of Sufi history in the country.
As if the seriousness of the campaign against the Gonabadis were not already obvious, Ferghe News has added a new item to the list of charges: that the Sufis are drug dealers, which is punishable by execution in Iran. At the beginning of August, the International Organization for the Preservation of Human Rights in Iran (IOPHRI) warned from Brussels that Ferghe News asserts that people join the Gonabadi order to enrich themselves by trafficking in narcotics, and that this explains the growth of the Gonabadi movement.
In its Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran for 2012, the Iran Human Rights (IHR) organization, based in Norway, accumulated statistics on 580 executions last year, of which 294 were reported officially and 286 by unofficial informants. In addition, 325 executions were carried out at Vakilabad prison near Mashhad in northeastern Iran, but only 85 of them could be investigated by IHR. The rights monitor states that 76 percent of the executions they analyzed were based on drug cases, and challenges the correctness of the investigations that led to them.
The Gonabadi-Nimatullahi Sufis of Iran face accelerating attempts at their annihilation. So far, the election of Hassan Rohani to the country’s presidency has had no mitigating effect on their severe and unjust mistreatment.