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Iran’s Leading Sunni Cleric Calls Out Supreme Leader

Iranian Sunni Muslim cleric Abdul Hamid Ismaeelzehi, known as Molavi Abdul Hamid, is pictured during the Eid al-Fitr prayer in Zahedan, Iran, April 21, 2023.
Iranian Sunni Muslim cleric Abdul Hamid Ismaeelzehi, known as Molavi Abdul Hamid, is pictured during the Eid al-Fitr prayer in Zahedan, Iran, April 21, 2023.

Influential Iranian Sunni Muslim cleric Abdul Hamid Ismaeelzehi, known as Molavi Abdul Hamid, criticized Iran’s supreme leader during his Friday sermon in Zahedan City and said that holding a referendum to solve problems would not be needed if the authorities instead listened to the voice of the people.

Molavi Abdul Hamid said Friday that every government in the world, Islamic or non-Islamic, must be with the people, and no one can survive by force of arms. While he did not actually name Ali Khamenei, there was no doubt who he was talking about.

He said the public is requesting a referendum because of disappointment about their desires and demands being ignored. “One of the leaders rejected the proposal. What is the need for a referendum when the result of a referendum is clear? I urged the government to listen to the cry of the people and respect their wishes. The same people voted for the Islamic Republic in 1979,” Hamid said.

Last month, Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei ruled out holding a referendum on crucial national issues, a demand made repeatedly by opponents. Hamid asserted the only way the government can overcome the current political crisis is to hold a referendum so the people can determine what political system should be formed in Iran.

Hamid also said in another part of his speech, “My advice to the scholars is to be with the people, and my advice to the armed forces is not to stand in front of the people. You are people's children; change yourself if people want you to change.”

Referring to the strike of oil contract workers, Hamid noted the national currency has almost completely lost its value, and people's financial problems are severe, while authorities have taken no action. “Unfortunately, many problems have arisen in our country today. Now, we see that workers and factories have gone on strike on a large scale, and the workers cannot live with their salaries. There are many whose income is so low that they sleep on the streets.”

“It is a difficult situation for the Iranian nation,” Hamid observed. “Inflation and high prices skyrocketed, and people are facing many problems. Action has yet to be taken by the authorities to solve this problem.”

Bloody Friday

Later in his sermon, he said leaders assured people the judicial system would impartially investigate Bloody Friday. “Now they say no action can be taken because they don't know who was shot, Hamid said. “How did you catch the killer of that Basij militia and take revenge on his killer? You can find it instantly when people have killed a security force, but you can't find them when they kill people.”

He added that 38 of those killed on Bloody Friday were declared martyrs. “I consider this a positive point because it acknowledges the people's oppression. These people were killed unjustly. This was not human error. Killing someone while hunting may be human error, but what you did was not human error. People want to know who ordered these attacks.”

Bloody Friday occurred when security forces opened fire on protests that erupted on September 30 after weekly prayers in Zahedan, capital of the restive province of Sistan-Baluchistan on Iran's border with Pakistan.

It came two weeks after demonstrations broke out across Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died while in the custody of the morality police. Amini had been detained for allegedly violating the hijab rule, and her death sparked nationwide protests.

Many women in Iran have publicly opposed the mandatory hijab since the death of Amini.

Security forces have violently put down protests, and according to a report by the Human Rights Activists News Agency in early January, 516 protesters have been killed, including 70 children.

The latest figures from the U.S.-based human rights monitor put the number of people arrested at more than 19,200, among them 687 students.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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