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Rights Groups: Iran Sentences 4 Dervish Women to 5-Year Terms


Rights groups say an Iranian court has sentenced four minority Dervish women to 5-year prison terms for involvement in an anti-government protest in Tehran in February. They are, clockwise from top left: Shima Entesari, Nazila Nouri, Avisha Jalaleddin and Sima Entesari.

Iranian rights groups say a court has sentenced four women of Iran's Gonabadi Dervish minority to five years in prison each for participating in an anti-government protest that turned violent in Tehran.

The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said a husband of one of the four women told the organization that a revolutionary court in Tehran handed down their sentences Tuesday. CHRI named the women as Nazila Nouri, Avisha Jalaleddin, and sisters Shima Entesari and Sima Entesari.

It said the four were convicted of "conspiracy against national security."

The main news outlet covering the human rights situation of the Gonabadi Dervish community in Iran, Majzooban Noor, confirmed the five-year sentences against the four women in posts on its social media channels.

CHRI quoted Mahyar Shalchi, husband of Shima Entesari, as saying the women objected to the lengthy prison terms as unfair and hoped to rescind them in an appeals court. It was not clear when such appeals might be made. There was no immediate word on the sentences in Iranian state media.

The four are among 11 Dervish women whom Iranian authorities detained during anti-government protests in Tehran on February 19 and 20. The protests escalated into clashes between police and the Dervishes, with five security personnel being killed and authorities arresting more than 300 people. Two of the detained Dervish women have since been released, while five others await sentencing.

The Dervish protesters had been demanding the release of arrested members of their community and the removal of security checkpoints around the house of their 90-year-old leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh.

Speaking to VOA Persian's NewsHour program on Tuesday, U.S.-based Iranian Dervish rights activist Hamid Gharagozloo said Tabandeh has been under house arrest for more than five months and has been cut off from contact with Iran's Dervish community.

"Before his house arrest, lawyers and doctors would meet Tabandeh once a week to seek his advice, while Dervishes would meet him five days a week to be enriched by his wisdom," said Gharagozloo, a member of the London-based International Organization to Preserve Human Rights.

"Our minimum request to Iranian authorities is for Tabandeh to be allowed to speak to his followers at least once or twice a week — even through the web," he said. "We also ask for an international organization to be permitted to visit him to check on his well-being and ensure that he is in good health."

In a phone interview with VOA Persian last month, the mother of Sepideh Moradi, one of the detained Dervish women currently awaiting sentencing, accused Iranian security agents of severely beating her daughter and the other jailed women at Qarchak prison on Tehran's southern outskirts. The mother, Sedigheh Khalili, said she learned of the alleged beatings from security guards who spoke to her when she visited the prison that day. She said she had tried to see her daughter but was refused permission.

Also last month, Iran executed a Dervish man on charges of driving a bus that killed three of the Iranian security personnel during the protests. The bus driver, Mohammad Salas, confessed to the killings in a trial that ended in March, but rights activists said he was tortured into making that confession.

Dervishes, also known as Sufis, have long complained of harassment by Iran's Shiite Islamist rulers, who view them as heretics.

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

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