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Aide to Sunni cleric arrested in Iran’s Zahedan for ‘manipulating’ public opinion

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An aide to Sunni Muslim cleric Molavi Abdolhamid, an influential leader of Iran’s ethnic Baluchi minority, was arrested in the restive southeastern city of Zahedan late Monday, state media said.

Abdolmajid Moradzehi was accused of “manipulating public opinion” and “communicating on several occasions with foreign individuals and media outlets,” the official IRNA news agency said.

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Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province, which is home to the ethnic Baluch minority and had been the site of often deadly violence even before nationwide protests erupted in September over the death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.

On September 30 last year, dozens of people, including members of the security forces, were killed when thousands took to the streets after Friday prayers at the city’s Makki mosque, headed by Abdolhamid.

They were protesting the alleged rape of a 15-year-old-girl in custody in the port city of Chabahar by a local police commander.

As the protests raged on for weeks and months, Iranian officials were critical of Abdolhamid, describing his prayer sermons as “provocative.”

“If there were no provocative remarks in the sermons, we would have seen peace in Zahedan,” Iran’s deputy Interior Minister Majid Mirahmadi said in late October when asked about the persistent unrest.

State media characterized the unrest as attacks by “extremists” on police stations. Abdolhamid said security forces “shot at people” around the mosque, amid public anger over the alleged rape.

Zahedan is one of the few cities in Shia-majority Iran which is mainly Sunni.

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