Prominent Iranian Sunni cleric urges release of protest detainees

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A prominent dissident Sunni Muslim cleric urged Iranian authorities on Friday to free thousands of detained protesters and stop executions as the three-month-old unrest churned on with street marches in a restive southeastern province.

Amnesty International said 26 people faced possible execution after the Islamic Republic hanged two people arrested over the protests that erupted after the death in police custody of young Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini on September 16.

The unrest, in which demonstrators from all walks of life have called for the fall of Iran’s ruling theocracy, poses one of the biggest challenges to the Shia Muslim-ruled Islamic Republic since its 1979 revolution.

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“At least 26 people are at great risk of execution in connection with nationwide protests after Iranian authorities arbitrarily executed two individuals following grossly unfair sham trials in a bid to instill fear among the public and end protests,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

“Of the 26, at least 11 are sentenced to death and 15 are charged with capital offences and awaiting or undergoing trials,” it said.

Molavi Abdolhamid, an outspoken Sunni cleric, criticized the death sentences, according to his website.

“We compassionately recommend that you release the recent prisoners who were detained during these protests and not treat them harshly. Most of them are young and very young. Free the young men and women,” Molavi Abdolhamid said.

“Don’t charge them with (capital offences), and if they are, they should not be sentenced to death and put to death,” the cleric said in a Friday prayers sermon.

After the sermon, demonstrators took to the streets of Zahedan, capital of impoverished Sistan-Baluchestan province in the southeast. “This nation wants freedom, it wants a prosperous country!” they chanted, in videos posted on social media.

Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.

In continued unrest in other parts of Iran, unidentified attackers damaged a mosque in western Lorestan province early on Friday by throwing petrol bombs, state media reported.

According to the activist HRANA news agency, 495 protesters have been killed as of Thursday, including 68 minors. Sixty-two members of the security forces have also been killed. It said more than 18,400 are estimated to have been arrested.

On Wednesday, Iran was ousted from a United Nations women’s group for policies contrary to the rights of women and girls, a move proposed by the United States over Tehran’s violent crackdown on protests often led by women.

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