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Iranian Lawmakers: End Sunni Cleric’s Travel Ban

Iran’s most prominent Sunni cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi of the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan Baluchistan, has been banned by the government from visiting other parts of the country, except for the capital, Tehran.

A group of Iranian lawmakers has called on the government to lift travel restrictions on the most influential Sunni minority cleric in Shiite-majority Iran.

In a tweet posted Wednesday, Iranian lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi said he and 19 other lawmakers had signed a letter appealing for an end to the travel ban on the Sunni cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi. The letter was addressed to Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi and Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli.

In the letter, the lawmakers said Iran needs to be unified in order to face perceived threats from U.S. President Donald Trump and other foreign powers. They said limiting the prominent Iranian Sunni cleric’s travel is not reasonable under such circumstances.

Abdolhamid revealed last year that Iran’s Shiite rulers had banned him from traveling outside his home province of Sistan Baluchistan in the country’s southeast, with an exception for travel to Tehran. Other Iranian Sunni clerics have faced similar restrictions.

The cleric, who serves as the government-approved Friday prayer leader in the city of Zahedan, used a sermon in May to call on Tehran to stop restricting the domestic travel of Iranian Sunni clergy. The Sunni Online website quoted him as saying the Iranian constitution does not allow any organization to ban an Iranian citizen from traveling to different parts of the country.

The U.S.-based Center for Human Rights in Iran has described Abdolhamid as both a loyal supporter of Iran’s Shiite-led Islamist system and an outspoken defender of constitutional rights of minority Sunnis.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent a letter to Abdolhamid last August, saying all elements of Iran’s Islamist establishment must refrain from “discrimination and inequality among Iranians [of] any ethnicity, race or faith.”

In a January interview with CHRI, Abdolhamid said he expected President Hassan Rouhani’s government to embrace that decree, but had not seen any changes so far.

Abdolhamid also said Tehran had shown little appreciation for his efforts to keep the peace in Sistan Baluchistan.

“Our province is turbulent because of the long border [with Pakistan and Afghanistan] and the authorities acknowledge that peace is maintained by the efforts made by the Sunni religious leaders,” he told CHRI. “So you would think the authorities would not have a problem with us, but they do. It all comes down to intolerance.”

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian Service.