On Saturday, March 8, members of the Gonabadi-Nimatullahi Sufi order, the most powerful Muslim contemplative body in Iran, assembled with supporters of other political prisoners in Tehran, for a peaceful protest against repression by the country’s clerical regime. Participants in the demonstration, held at the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office, totaled some 2,000 people. The Sufis called for solidarity with 10 inmates in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, the Rajai-Shahr prison in the city of Karaj west of Tehran, Nezam jail in the southern metropolis of Shiraz, and the jail at Bandar Abbas, a major port on the southern coast.
The Sufis asked for the return of two of their imprisoned members, Farshid Yadollahi and Reza Entesari, who has been summarily removed from Evin to Rajai-Shahr. They further demanded that Saeed Madani, an Iranian sociologist and member of the dissident Nationalist-Religious Front, be brought back from Rajai-Shahr, where he too had been shifted. Madani has been in jail since 2000. The Sufis also appealed for improvements in medical care for prisoners.
The date of the protest was observed in many countries as International Women’s Day, originally a socialist festival but adopted widely abroad. Thus, the Sufi demonstration in the Iranian capital included numerous female adherents of spiritual Islam as well as mothers and other relatives of Sufis in jail. According to the Gonabadi-Nimatullahi news source, Majzooban Noor (The Alluring Light), Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and National Security personnel, grouped in police buses, set up checkpoints throughout Tehran to prevent demonstrators from reaching the Prosecutor’s Office. Security agents then descended on the protesters, using fire engines and ambulances, along with police vehicles, to block the event, and arrested many of them, including 80 women.
Those detained were transported to police station number 113 in the Tehran bazaar. There the Sufis were photographed, videotaped, and ordered to fill out interrogation forms. Many refused the forms and were beaten with rubber clubs.
During the melee at the prosecutor’s office, security forces also grabbed Arash Sadeghi, a philosophy student and activist who had been arrested in 2009 and was brutalized badly while imprisoned. In 2010, Sadeghi’s mother died of heart failure after a police raid on the family home.
The Sadeghi case epitomizes the torments facing the families of Iranian dissidents. Sadeghi’s father, a military officer, blamed the young man for the death of his wife and Sadeghi’s mother, and expelled him from home. But Sadeghi’s father reportedly came to see that his son was a victim of the regime, which he now blames for his family’s loss.
In the same clash at the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office last Saturday, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was pepper-sprayed, according to the Sufis. Security police separated women from men during the assault. Furthermore, the Sufis reported, Maryam Shirini, wife of imprisoned Sufi lawyer Amir Eslami, had commenced a hunger strike, but had a seizure and fell unconscious during the protest. She was taken to a hospital in an ambulance.
The Sufis described security forces hunting protesters through streets near the Prosecutor’s Office, which were sealed off beginning early Saturday morning. The family of Hamid Reza Moradi, director of the Majzooban Noor website, whose medical condition has been endangered by his imprisonment, were picked up and sent to the Evin lockup. They included Moradi’s wife, Sedighe Khalili, his daughter, Sepideh Moradi, and his sister, Fahimeh Moradi. Shekoufeh Yadillahi, the mother of jailed Sufi Kasra Nouri, a lawyer and editor of the same website, was seized similarly.
The Sufis asserted that the Iranian government promised the families that demands for improvement in the condition of many who were previously imprisoned would be met by 9 a.m. on Sunday, March 9. The Sufis said that if officials failed to honor their pledge, the devotees would appear again in the street before the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office.
The henchmen of the clerical dictators reneged on their commitment, and the Sufis returned to the Prosecutor’s Office on Sunday to demand rights guaranteed them, on paper, by the Islamic state.
Anti-riot police and plainclothes agents attacked the Sunday demonstrators with pepper gas, beat men and women with batons, and conducted more arrests, putting at least 500 Sufis behind bars over the weekend. Twenty family members, including three children, were taken to Evin prison. They declared a hunger strike, in emulation of previously-arrested Gonabadi Sufis, who have refused food.
Thus we see the authentic and oppressive nature of the Islamic Republic behind the diplomatic performance conducted by the Iranian government and the smiling Hassan Rouhani.