Accessibility links

Breaking News

In Iran, Concern Grows Over Dervishes On Prison Hunger Strike

Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi (right) has appealed to Ahmed Shaheed, the UN's special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran.
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has expressed concern over the conditions of two jailed dervishes who are reportedly on a hunger strike in an Iranian prison.

The two men -- Salehedin Moradi and Kasra Nouri -- are members of Iran’s largest Sufi order, the Nematollahi Gonabadi order, which in recent years has come under increasing pressure from Iranian authorities.

The two have been in Shiraz’s Adelabad prison for the past 19 months on charges that include “acting against Iran’s national security” and “spreading propaganda” against the Iranian regime.

Moradi and Nouri, who have refused to eat for the past two months, are now said to have intensified their protest by refusing to drink. They are reportedly protesting against the jailing and pressuring of their fellow dervishes, including several lawyers who defended Sufis in court and were later sentenced to prison.

'Something Terrible Could Happen'

In an open letter to Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ebadi warned that Moradi and Nouri are in “critical” condition.

Ebadi, who lives in exile, added that dervishes, who are Shi’a Muslims, have come under “illegal pressure” by the Iranian establishment over their religious beliefs. She said Moradi and Nouri’s lack of faith that justice will be served was what drove them to go on hunger strikes.

“Any minute something terrible could happen,” she warned.

Farhad Nouri is the chief editor of the "Majzooban" website, which covers news about the Gonabadi dervishes in Iran. Moradi and Nouri’s families have told him that the two men have become severely weakened as a result of their prolonged hunger strike.

He told RFE/RL on March 26 that prison officials force-fed the two while documenting the scene.

“We’ve been informed that security officials from the prison, along with officials from the Intelligence Ministry, forced the dervishes to eat bread and videotaped them," Nouri said. "We don’t know what the purpose was.”

The move was apparently a reaction to a protest staged by a number of dervishes in front of the prison. The dervishes had gathered to express their concern over the two men’s health.

Discrimination Against Dervishes

In his latest report on the human rights situation in Iran, the UN’s Shaheed noted that dervishes are subjected to attacks on their places of worship and are arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and prosecuted.

Dervishes say their growing popularity is one of the main reasons for the increased pressure they are facing.

Nouri says Iranian leaders are also worried that the dervishes could use their network to mobilize against the establishment.

“Particularly after the 2009 presidential election, because of the widespread support of the dervishes for presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi, the establishment became concerned that the dervishes could organize and engage in actions against the regime," Nouri said. "But they forgot the fact that dervishes believe religion should be separated from politics. They are not willing to engage in political activism and they’re all peaceful.”

The Nematollahi order of dervishes is believed to have more than 2 million members across Iran.
  • 16x9 Image

    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.