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Iranian Dervish Dies After Arrest, Daughter Says

Iranian dervish Mohammad Raji

The daughter of one of the Iranian dervishes reportedly arrested in Tehran last month amid security troops' clashes with worshipers of that mystical Sufi order says her father died after being taken in custody.

Tayebeh Raji told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on March 4 that authorities had informed her family that Mohammad Raji died after falling into a coma caused by "bleeding and injuries."

The elder Raji, a war veteran, was among some 300 dervishes arrested on February 19 following skirmishes with security forces.

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 so-called Gonabadi dervishes -- Sufis named for the native city in Iran's Khorasan Province of one of the order's leaders -- 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.

Iranian security forces clash with members of the Gonabadi Sufi community in Tehran on February 19.
Iranian security forces clash with members of the Gonabadi Sufi community in Tehran on February 19.

Raji's death was first reported by a website that covers news and information related to Iran's largest Sufi order, the Gonabadi dervishes, who claim to have millions of members in Iran and abroad. reported on March 4 that Raji, who the website says was a former Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander injured in a chemical attack during the 1980-88 war with Iraq, died as a result of "blows sustained during interrogations." That account has not been independently or officially confirmed.

The website cited the family as the source of its news.

Tayebeh Raji said authorities contacted the family several times on March 3 and asked them to bring a photo of their father for identification purposes.

"After one of our relatives went to [the police station], they said an individual is in a coma as the result of bleeding and injuries and we want to see if that person is Raji or not,'' she said.

The relative was later contacted by authorities and told that Raji had died, she said.

"After [our relative] came back, the police called and said, 'Yes, the picture matches, and he has died in a coma.'"

Raji’s daughter said she had last seen her father on the night of his arrest.

Fatal Clashes

The dervishes had been protesting outside a police station over the arrest of one of the members of their community. Later, more clashes were reported outside the home of Gonabadi Sufi leader Nurali Tabandeh, where dervishes had staged sit-ins to protect him.

"I saw him that night," Tayebeh Raji said. "I saw that as a result of beating and bleeding, he was in a critical condition; but he waved his hand and I saw that he was alive."

She said no information had been provided by authorities for the past two weeks.

"We would go to the police station, to the prison; authorities wouldn't tell us anything," she said. "If my father was in a coma, the least they could do in terms of our rights was to tell us to go and see our father for the last time."

She said a difference of opinions had forced her father to retire from the IRGC in 2004.

"My father’s mentality didn’t fit. He would say that he fought during the war to defend his country and for his beliefs and that he didn't want any post or [privileges]."

She said that her father had turned to work as a farmer.

Tayebeh Raji said her brother, Mohammad Ali, had also been arrested last month. Ali, who she said had helped to look after her father since the chemical attack in the Iran-Iraq War, had been "acquitted" and was due to be released next week.

Authorities do not appear to have commented on Raji’s death.

Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Ejei said last month that apart from several police members killed on February 20, "an individual" had died.

"I don’t know if he was among rioters or not," Ejei was quoted by Iranian media as saying on February 25.

Reports suggest at least five security troops were killed in clashes sparked by the tensions with dervishes on February 19, three of them when a bus was driven into their ranks.

The Gonabadi dervishes, who are regarded warily by Iran’s clerical establishment, have come under increased pressure in recent years.

Radio Farda broadcaster Vahid Pourostad contributed to this report.
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