Iran’s top Sunni cleric says barred from Hajj by Iranian authorities

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Iran’s top Sunni cleric has been forbidden by Iranian authorities from attending this year’s Hajj pilgrimage, his website said on Wednesday.

Molavi Abdolhamid had planned to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage this year but was informed by Iran’s intelligence ministry that he is prohibited from doing so, his website said, offering no further details.

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The annual Hajj pilgrimage to holy sites in Saudi Arabia, regarded as one of the fundamental pillars of Islam, is expected to begin later this month.

Iranian authorities have not provided any official response or explanation regarding the matter.

Based in Zahedan, the capital of Iran’s southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, Abdolhamid has been a vocal critic of the Iranian regime since nationwide protests erupted in the country following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman.

Amini died on September 16, 2022, three days after being arrested by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the country’s strict dress rules for women.

Abdolhamid holds considerable influence and is highly regarded among Iran’s Sunni minority. However, his recent outspoken criticism of the regime has garnered him even more popularity among Iranians who oppose the Islamic Republic.

Sistan-Baluchistan, which borders Pakistan, is one of Iran’s poorest regions and is mostly populated by Sunni ethnic Baluchis, a minority in predominantly Shia Iran. Human rights groups say they have faced discrimination and repression for decades.

The province witnessed regular anti-regime protests, often occurring after Friday prayers, for several months.

According to the human rights groups, hundreds were killed by security forces during the protests sparked by Amini’s death, with Sistan-Baluchistan having the highest number of fatalities.

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