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Jailed, Exiled Iranian Dervish Activists Accuse Iran’s Rulers of Murder

Undated image of Iranian Gonabadi Dervish activist Behnam Mahjoubi, who died at a Tehran hospital while in detention on Feb. 21, 2021 after months of being denied proper medical care by Iranian authorities in prison, according to activists.

Jailed and exiled activists of an Iranian religious sect have denounced Iran’s Islamist leadership for Sunday’s death of a detained Dervish dissident whom they say was denied proper medical care for a serious neurological condition for months while in the custody of Iranian authorities.

A group of five jailed activists of Iran’s Gonabadi Dervish minority sent a statement to VOA Persian expressing outrage at the death of fellow Dervish dissident Behnam Mahjoubi at Tehran’s Loghman hospital, to which he had been transferred by authorities from the city’s Evin prison on February 13. Iran’s prisons organization said the 33-year-old Mahjoubi, who suffered from a panic disorder, was transferred to the hospital after being poisoned at Evin through the consumption of drugs and died eight days later, after efforts by hospital staff to revive him failed.

The five jailed Dervish activists called Mahjoubi’s death a “murder” and “big crime” and said Iran’s Islamist rulers were using it to send a message that they can kill their opponents “in the street, interrogation room, detention cell and prison ward.”

The prisoners who issued the statement identified themselves as Kianoush Abbaszadeh, Mostafa Abdi, Abbas Dehghan, Mohammad Sharifi Moghadam and Kasra Nouri. They sent it to VOA in the form of an audio message read by one of the men, who asked not to be named.

Another Dervish rights activist, Alireza Roshan, accused Iranian authorities of killing Mahjoubi by treating him worse than an animal. He spoke to VOA Persian in a Monday Skype video interview from exile in Turkey.

Gonabadi Dervishes are a Sufi Muslim religious sect that has long complained of harassment by Iran’s ruling Shiite clerics, who view them as heretics.

Mahjoubi was among more than 300 Dervish community members arrested for involvement in anti-government protests in Tehran, February 19-20, 2018. The protests escalated into violent street confrontations between Iranian security forces and the activists. Five officers were killed.

Iranian rights activists said Mahjoubi was released on bail later in 2018 while also being sentenced to two years in prison on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.” He began serving the sentence at Evin in June 2020.

An Iran-based friend of Mahjoubi, former political prisoner Ebrahim Allah Bakhshi, told VOA Persian in September that he had been in regular phone contact with Mahjoubi in prison and learned that Evin authorities had been blocking Mahjoubi’s access to panic disorder medications provided by family members since August.

In a Monday tweet, the U.N. Human Rights office called on Iran to undertake a full and transparent investigation into Mahjoubi’s death in custody.

“His death is another reminder of how adequate medical treatment is repeatedly denied to detainees. We call for immediate access to adequate care for all prisoners,” the U.N. Human Rights office said.

In a statement also published Monday, New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran executive director Hadi Ghaemi said governments worldwide “should condemn Iran’s practice of denying medical care to prisoners as the torture and effective extrajudicial murder of prisoners that it represents.”

Iran’s prisons organization said Mahjoubi’s cause of death would be investigated and announced later.

In the Biden’s administration's first and only English comment on Iran’s human rights record, Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany in issuing a February 18 joint statement that discussed Iran and expressed “deep concern about the continuing grave human rights violations” there.

The Dervishes involved in the 2018 protests in Tehran had been demanding the release of arrested members of their community and the removal of security checkpoints around the house of their elderly leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh. He died in December 2019.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Click here for the original Persian version of the story.

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