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Iran Sentences Sufi To Death Over Killing Of Three Police Officers


Iranian policemen carry a the coffin of colleague a colleague who was one of three officers killed last month when a bus rammed into them in February.

Iran has sentenced a man to death for killing three police officers during clashes in Tehran last month between security forces and members of a Sufi order.

State media reported on March 19 that Mohammad Reza Salas can appeal his verdict within 20 days.

Salas rammed a bus into a group of police officers on February 19 during violent battles between security forces and followers of the Sufi Gonabadi order, known as dervishes.

During court hearings, Salas said repeatedly that he did not kill the police officers intentionally, according to local media.

The dervishes were protesting the arrest of members of the sect, as well as rumors that their 90-year-old leader Nourali Tabandeh would soon be detained by police, despite assurances by the authorities that they had no such intention.

Two members of the paramilitary Basij force, which is linked to the hard-line conservative Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, were also killed in the skirmishes, authorities said.

Some 300 dervishes were reportedly arrested following the violence.

The daughter of one of them told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on March 4 that her father died while in custody.

Tayebeh Raji said that authorities had informed her family that Mohammad Raji died after falling into a coma caused by "bleeding and injuries."

More than 80 Iran-based political and rights activists said in a statement issued on March 3 that they were concerned over "unpleasant reports" concerning conditions for the Gonabadi dervishes and their situation behind bars.

The statement, published by opposition websites including Kalame, called for fair legal processes concerning indictments filed against the detained Sufis.

"We expect the judiciary to respect the laws and the civil rights of [detainees] fully," the statement said.

Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, is not illegal in Iran but rights groups accuse the Iranian government of harassment and discrimination against their followers, including the Gonabadis, one of the largest Sufi sects.

In March 2017, the UN special rapporteur for Iran expressed concern over the state targeting of members of Sufi groups, saying they "continue to face arbitrary arrest, harassment, and detention and are often accused of national security crimes."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and IRNA
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