Statement by Human Rights Commissioner Kofler on the situation of the Gonabadi dervishes in Iran

20.03.2018 - Press release

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (20 March) on the situation of the Gonabadi dervishes in Iran:

I am very concerned about the situation of the Gonabadi Order and its followers, many of whom are still in prison following the protests in February, which turned violent. I condemn the violence during the protests by the dervishes in February and the killing of the police officers. At the same time, the principle of proportionality must apply.

I also call on the Iranian judiciary to ensure that the accused are granted a fair trial. In this context, I am most concerned about today’s announcement of a first death sentence. The death penalty is a cruel form of punishment, which the German Government rejects in all circumstances.

Furthermore, dervish Mohammed Raji’s sudden death in detention should be investigated using rule-of-law means.

People must not be imprisoned and abused on the basis of their membership of the Gonabadi Order.

I call on Iran to uphold the obligation arising from its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect human rights regardless of an individual’s religion or ethnicity and to release all those in prison because of their religious or political convictions without delay.

Background information:

On 20 February 2018, around 1000 Gonabadi dervishes took part in protests in Tehran against the imprisonment of their 70-year-old fellow believer Nematollah Rihai. The protests ended in violence, which included a bus being driven into a group of police officers. Five people were killed. According to the Tehran police, 30 people were injured and 300 dervishes arrested. A man has been condemned to death by a trial court in connection with the police officers’ deaths. Since the unrest, there are reports that many dervishes remain in prison or under house arrest. Human rights organisations say that the dervishes and their families are being subjected to brutality by the security forces, with reports of torture and abuse. Mohammed Raji, a member of the Gonabadi Order, died in prison.

The dervishes in the Iranian Gonabadi Order, which has an estimated five million members in Iran, are part of the Twelver Shia, but reject all forms of political Islam. The order does not recognise the principle of the religious and political rule of the supreme authority on religious laws, the basis of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Members of the order are frequently persecuted and imprisoned because of their critical views on the Government, but also because of their social issues and human rights advocacy.


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