At Arrival of Security Forces, Alternative Worship Turns Violent

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – In one of many recent attacks from security forces on Shiite sub-sects, a peaceful ceremony commemorating the death of the ninth Shiite Imam was broken up on August 12th when officers arrived and began beating those in attendance.

The owner of the shop that hosted the gathering was arrested the following day, only to be released when members of a group called “Ansar Imam Mehdi” gathered in front of the Intelligence Bureau of Torbat Heydarieh to demand his release. On August 16th, two of these protestors were arrested on orders from the Revolutionary Court.

Several individuals who have gained a following in recent years by claiming to have contact with the Shiite eschatological figure Imam Mehdi — also known as the 12th Imam — have also come under fire from security forces, particularly the Ministry of Intelligence. Iranian authorities have since appointed special divisions to address religious activities that contravene the ideology of the regime, often resulting in violent clashes.

A source close to the Ansar Imam Mehdi group told HRANA, “If they refuse to release our brothers, members plan to assemble in front of the Revolutionary Court and peacefully announce that we are not the enemy; we only demand our basic rights such as freedom of conscience, opinion, the right to life, and the right to hold our religious ceremonies for imams.”

The situation escalated on August 19th, the anniversary of the death of the fifth Imam, when a group of about 60 people were met with tear gas, electric shocks, and blunt-force assault from security forces outside the Revolutionary Court. The group, who reportedly read religious texts to appeal to a religious common ground with authorities, were heard chanting “freedom of opinion is our undeniable right” and imploring for the release of their comrades.

In a report to HRANA, the aforementioned source said the gathering served to commemorate the fifth Imam in the same manner that the group had intended on August 12th, “which should not be a crime in Iran.” He said that an elderly man with heart problems was among those beaten and that security forces, rather than relenting when the man felt pains in his chest, arrested him. “They attacked our sisters,” the source added, “not even the children were spared from beatings, and some of them were trampled.”

The group in question had been regularly congregating around Seyed Ahmad Hossein, a man who claims to have contact with Imam Mehdi. The government crackdown on the group first began on November 9, 2017, when six seminary students and professors, including Mohammad Javad Choobtarash, were seized from a residence in Qom and held in the Intelligence Bureau for interrogation. Most of those detained that day were released on bail shortly after.

Other arrests related to this religious group are as follows:

May 7, 2018: Ahmad Reza Zaraghi, a seminary student, who had been released 16 days earlier on bail, was arrested a second time by the security forces at his sister’s home in Qaem Shahr, northern Iran, and transferred to Tehran in police custody.

May 2, 2018: Cleric Mohammad Hossein Bigdeli was arrested at a holy shrine in the city of Qom.

March 7, 2018: Massoud Ghorbani was arrested, released, and again summoned to the Clerics Special Court before being transferred to Qom Saheli Prison.

February 6, 2018: Ahmad Kohandel was arrested in connection to his group affiliation.

January 11, 2018: Qom seminary student Seyyed Hamed Miri, 31, was arrested.