At Least 6 Killed, 300 Arrested in Clashes between Security Forces and Sufi Dervishes in Tehran

A demonstration by dervishes protesting against the arrest of one of them has led to violent clashes with the police, resulting in deaths and injuries. Three policemen are reported dead and in addition, a senior commander of Iran Basij militia force says two members of this force have also been killed in the clashes and at least one protester is dead, Radio Farda reports.

“Some 100 policemen attacked the dervishes and shot at them. We are worried about our security in the area, while we are defending our leader, Dr. Nour Ali Tabandeh. Our resolve is to defend him up to the last drop of our blood,” Kasra Nouri, one of the dervishes taking part in the gathering told Radio Farda.

A video clip posted on social media shows a bus ramming into riot police. The attack reportedly killed the three riot policemen. According to Fars News Agency, “an angry dervish bus driver ran over a group of policemen and created a carnage.”

“The bus damaged several vehicles and injured several people who happened to be in the area at the time, “Fars added.

Fars quoted “informed sources” as saying that the bus driver, Yavar Mohammad Salas, is a Gonabadi dervish,” adding that “the bus belongs to one of the leaders of the dervishes.” Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported that seven other policemen have been injured in the incident and have been taken to the hospital. In an interview with Radio Farda, Kasra Nouri denied the dervishes involvement in the death of the three policemen.

“The bus was parked there and then started to move, and the dervishes had nothing to do with the accident,” he added.

Nouri further added that the police had promised not to arrest the dervishes, and to release Riahi, but they did not stand by their promise.

Another video posted shortly afterward, shows a sedan plowing through the security forces. This attack reportedly left one Basiji dead.

Meanwhile, the officials say both drivers were arrested “minutes after the attacks”.

At least 300 protesters are confirmed arrested by the authorities. Furthermore, Gonabadi dervishes say at least one of their members was killed under torture by the security forces. In one video protesters are heard addressing the security forces saying they never wanted to fight them but they were left with no choice. Members of the Gonabadi order had already warned that the residence of their leader, Dr. Nour Ali Tabandeh was their “red line” and they would not tolerate any trespassing.

The gathering in front of Police Precinct 102 in north Tehran on February 19 was a protest movement by members of the Gonabadi order of Iranian dervishes, after one of its members, Nematollah Riahi was arrested by the security police and detained at the precinct. Riahi, 72, is from the city of Shahr-e Kord near Isfahan and had come to Tehran to defend the house of the leader of the Gonabadi order against a probable attack by the police and plain-clothes vigilante groups.

Tabandeh’s house is located in Tehran’s Passdaran Avenue, which was the site of clashes between the police and the dervishes twice before, in late December 2017 and early January. The dervishes had said in previous instances that the police was about to arrest Tabandeh. The police rejected the claim.

The dervishes say that Monday’s clashes started with the police’s provocation, but Saeed Montazerolmahdi, a spokesman for the police told Iranian state TV that three policemen were killed in the clashes.

“Two members of Basij, a volunteer militia under the Revolutionary Guards’ command, were killed. One was run over by a car, and one was stabbed and those who murdered them are under arrest. Unfortunately, 30 police forces were injured and many public and private properties were destroyed in the clashes,” he said.

The Gonabadi dervishes belong to the Sufi order known as “Nematollahi Sultan Ali Shahi” that believes in the principles and teachings of the 12-Imamite Shi’i Islam. Nevertheless, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been seriously suppressing the Sufi order for some of their other beliefs. Sufis are a branch of Islam that emphasizes direct mystical experience over mainstream religious practices. While they have been influential in many Muslim countries in history, they have been persecuted by both Sunni and Shi’ite religious establishments.

According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a non-profit group based in New York, several Dervishes have been arrested in the last two months. It said 10 members of the order were injured and three others arrested in the city of Kowar, in Fars province, on Jan. 14 after police attacked a rally demanding the release of other Sufi detainees.

The late UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran voiced concern in 2017 about the “targeting and harsh treatment” of members of various Sufi groups, including the Gonabadi order and the Yarsan, also known Ahl-e Haqq. Asma Jahangir, who died a week ago, said in her report to the UN Human Rights Council last March that the groups “continue to face arbitrary arrest, harassment, and detention, and are often accused of national security crimes such as acting against national security”.

In Iran, pressures increased on Sufis during former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government. During Iran’s 2009 disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad, Tabandeh supported one of Ahmadinejad’s main challengers, Mahdi Karroubi, who has been under house arrests since 2011.

In 2007, Sufis clashed Iranian security forces in the central Iranian town of Boroujerd after authorities decided to close a Sufi lodge. Authorities closed down a similar venue in the holy Shi’ite city of Qom in 2006.