Demands to end the death penalty and free political prisoners in Iran — including recently arrested Sunni religious teachers — were at the center of the sizable protests in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province, May 5. This is at least the 32nd consecutive week of mass actions there since the death of Zhina Amini, a young Kurdish woman who died after her arrest by the hated “morality” police in Tehran. The protests take place after Friday prayer services. The oppressed Baluch nationality is the majority in the province.
In the first week of May the Iranian government executed more than 20 people, most of them Baluchs accused of drug charges. Baluchs, who are Sunni Muslims, face systematic discrimination by the counterrevolutionary Shiite-based bourgeois-clerical regime in Tehran.
“These executions are against Islam and international law,” said prominent Sunni cleric Maulana Abdul-Hamid at the Zahedan mosque prior to the march. “Stop them.”
The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group says that the regime executed at least 582 people in 2022. Those executed are disproportionately from oppressed nationalities, including Baluch, Kurds and Arabs.
Similar to the Kurds — an oppressed nationality spread across Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey — the 2 million Baluch in Iran, 600,000 in Afghanistan and 6 million in Pakistan all face discrimination. Thousands of Iranian Baluchs are denied official ID cards, preventing them from receiving social security, education and other rights. To justify the denial of their rights, the Iranian government claims they are migrants from Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Largely rural Baluchistan is one of the poorest regions in Iran, with one of the highest unemployment rates. The Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers Trade Unions noted May 6 that it has the highest student dropout rate in the country.
The ongoing fight by the Baluch people is inspiring workers, farmers and other oppressed people across Iran to stand up. The regime is trying to limit the influence of the Baluch struggle. On Fridays when Abdul-Hamid gives his weekly sermon, internet and cellphone service there are frequently interrupted.
Following “Bloody Friday” last Sept. 30, when the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basij thugs cowardly massacred more than 60 protesters around the Zahedan mosque, Baluch working people created their own defense guard. Its members wear reflective vests and control the roads around the mosque, direct traffic, prevent provocations and ensure protests are disciplined and protected from interference.
Many people have traveled to Zahedan from Tehran and elsewhere to show their support for the protests. One video from March shows a Shiite family coming to visit the Zahedan mosque from Tehran. “I came with my family, my wife and kids,” one says. “We were welcomed in an exceptional manner.”
Abdul-Hamid frequently speaks out for the right of worship of all religions, including the Baha’i religious minority. “Inside the mosque we had complete freedom and we could be without the hijab and wear any head cover we wanted,” one Shiite woman said.
‘Thanks to Baluch, the movement is alive’
One visitor to the mosque told people, “Thanks to the Baluch, the movement [across Iran] is alive.”
“Factories across the country are on strike, and workers say wages are low and they can’t make ends meet,” Abdul-Hamid said April 28. That was the first public reference to the strike by contract oil workers demanding a 79% wage raise to compensate for inflation and for better work schedules. The strike has spread to over 100 workplaces. A day or two later the government-funded Iranian Labour News Agency published its first report about the strike.
In opposition to the government’s call for the destruction of Israel, the Sunni cleric has repeatedly said he is for the recognition of Israel and a Palestinian state, and for negotiations to bring peace.
Despite constant anti-Israel propaganda in the government-run news media, calls for destruction of Israel are not popular. At a recent protest in Zahedan one person held a sign that said, “On Bloody Friday there was no Zionist here!”