Exiled Members of Sufi Gonabadi Dervish Order Told to “Repent” or Serve Life in Prison
The sentences of a lifetime in exile issued against Mohammad Ali Shamshirzan and Hamid Arayesh of the Sufi order in Iran known as Gonabadi Dervishes has been illegally changed to life in prison unless the two “repent,” a source with knowledge about the case informed the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Four other dervishes—Kazem Dehghan, Mohammad Ali Sadeghi, Ebrahim Bahrami and Mohammad Ali Dehghan—who had also been sentenced to exile, are now facing five to seven years in prison.
“Last week the judge said if Shamshirzan and the others repent, they would be freed from prison,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, on October 3, 3017. “But it’s not clear why they should repent. Is it a crime to be a dervish?”
The Gonabadi Order believes in a different interpretation of Islam than Iran’s ruling Shia Muslim establishment and emphasizes peace and non-participation in politics. The Islamic Republic views any alternative belief system, especially those seeking converts, as a threat to the prevailing Shia order and has imprisoned Gonabadi Dervishes as part of an ongoing persecution campaign.
The six men were arrested in Kowar, Fars Province, in August 2011 when radical Shia Muslim seminary students attacked their religious gathering. They were interrogated at the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in the province’s capital city of Shiraz and later transferred to the city’s Adelabad Prison.
Convicted in April 2015 by the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz of the charges of “waging war against the state” for following “a deviant sect,” the six were sentenced to long periods in exile in different cities. Shamshirzan, Dehghan and Arayesh were respectively handed life in exile sentencea in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas; Zahedan in Sistan and Baluchistan Province and Ahwaz in Khuzestan Province.
Sadeghi, Bahrami and Dehghan were respectively issued seven years sentences in exile in Dezful in Khuzestan Province, Zabol in Sistan and Baluchistan Province and Maragheh in East Azerbaijan Province.
Shamshirzan, who has been suffering from medical problems, began his exile in Bandar Abbas in the spring of 2016, but was imprisoned on January 7, 2017, after checking in with the local police station and has been held there ever since.
“According to doctors at the prison clinic in Bandar Abbas, Mr. Shamshirzan, who suffers from heart disease, needs urgent treatment, but the prison officials have so far refused to allow him to be seen by a specialist,” the source told CHRI.
Shamshirzan was hospitalized twice in January 29 and March 2, 2017, but each time he was quickly returned to prison despite the doctors’ recommendations.