After clashes with security forces in Iran, more than 300 Sufi Dervishes remain under arrest and more have been arrested in smaller cities or trying to enter Tehran, where clashes took place.
Iranian sufi Dervishes of the Gonabadi school shot to the headlines across the country after their protest against the arrest of one of their members led to violent encounter with security forces on early hours of Tuesday February 20.
Three police officers and two plain-cloth Basiji forces have been killed in what the security forces are calling a car ramming attack allegedly initiated by one of the Dervishes. Security forces have arrested 300 Dervishes, say sources close the Gonabadi Sufis. The names of 200 of those arrested have been published so far; the rest are injured or not accounted for in the prison system.
The Sufi Muslim group of Gonabadi Dervishes have been subject to persecution since the coming to power of the mainstream Shiite theocracy of Islamic Republic in 1979. However in the past month followers of this Sufi group have been under more pressure with the intelligence faction of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) putting their leader’s house under surveillance, threatening followers and arresting them.
The Tuesday clashes were preceded by at least two more clashes in the past three weeks in Seventh Golestan Street in Tehran, where the group leader, Nour Ali Tabandeh, resides.
The most recent encounter between Dervishes and IRI security forces involved a minibus whose driver ran over antiriot police.
The clashes soon became the topic of conversation in social media and images of a bus running over police officers triggered criticism of Dervishes.
Dervishes were criticized for engaging in violence and tarnishing their image of peaceful protesters.
Some social media users have also presented the possibility of the attack being staged by the authorities and blamed on Dervishes since Fars News, media outlet linked to the Revolutionary Guards, was the first source to identify the bus driver as one of the Dervishes.
Head of Majzooban Noor website run by Gonabadi Dervishes has told Zamaneh that they were taken by surprise by this accusation. Farhad Nouri insists that Gonabadi Dervishes have always acted in self-defence and never initiated any attacks or disturbances.
He adds that the alleged perpetrator Mohammad Salas was reportedly at the site two hours prior to the bus attack and he was so severely beaten by the police that there was concern he might have been dead. Nouri goes on to express doubt about a dervish being able to secure such a bus.
Some sources close to the Gonabadi Dervishes claim that Mohammad Salas is dead from sustained injuries. Some others say that he is in custody. Security forces have disseminated a video in social media of an injured man claiming to be Salas saying that he drove the bus into riot police ranks.
Nourali Tabandeh, the leader of the Gonabadi Dervishes has been quoted as saying that they do not subscribe to violence. In a video message, Tabandeh reportedly urges his followers not to act on impulse or cause injury. He also insists that the dervishes should have the right to defend their beliefs.
Many Gonabadi Dervishes were reportedly beaten in the clashes with security forces on Monday night and Tuesday morning. Nouri confirmed that about 300 dervishes have been arrested in the course of defending the Gonabadi premises referred to as the Seventh Golestan. He adds however that the number is rising as dervishes entering Tehran from other parts of the country are also being arrested.
Many of those arrested are severally injured and have been transported to hospitals. On Wednesday 21 Feb, some of those who had sustained injuries were sent to prisons without full recovery.
Nouri reports that the events were escalated after state police attempted to set up a checkpoint at the Seventh Golestan three weeks ago and began increasing number of guards and intervening with the traffic in and out of the Seventh Golestan.
In recent years Islamic Republic authorities have arrested and sentenced several Gonabadi dervishes across the country for charges such as threatening national security and causing disorder.