Iranian authorities executed a member of a Sufi order Monday who was accused of ramming a bus into three policemen and killing them during a protest in February in Tehran, drawing criticism from observers who said he received unfair treatment.
Mohammad Salas, 51, was hanged Monday morning in Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran, according the official website of Iran’s judiciary.
He was later buried in his hometown of Borujerd, Lorestan province, according to a Tweet by his lawyer, Zeynab Taheri.
The State Department called for Iran to release about 300 Sufis who were detained during February’s clashes and said Salas’ execution was “brutal and unjust.”
“Mr. Salas’ rushed execution is the latest example of the Iranian regime’s disregard for the human rights of its citizens, ” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
“Reports indicate the Iranian regime has continued to crack down on Sufis on account of their faith throughout the country since that time, including disturbing allegations of deaths in custody or from beatings at the hands of security forces,” Nauert said.
Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam that draws on ancient and traditions and rituals. The Gonabadi Dervish followers are Shiite, and while it’s not illegal to practice Sufism, rights groups accuse the Iranian government of harassing and persecuting its followers.
Salas, a member of the Sufi Gonabadi Dervish group, was arrested Feb. 19 after violent clashes between security forces and supporters of the Sufi order broke out in Tehran.
The Sufi protesters were demonstrating against the arrests of members of their sect. There were rumors that their leader, Nourali Tabandeh, had been among those detained.
Salas, a father of two and a bus driver, was convicted and sentenced to death in March for using the bus to ram into three policemen, killing them. He pleaded not guilty during court hearings.
“I got into the bus to drive it toward the police station. I drove slowly so that police could move over,” he said during the trial according to Iran’s Fars News.
In an audio file Taheri released on Twitter in May, Salas said he was innocent and that he was not the driver of the bus that killed the three policemen.
“I cannot even kill an ant,” Salas is heard saying in the audio file. “The police have fabricated all of this.”
Salas also accused Iranian officials of torturing him, according to local media in Iran.
In Iran, activists took to Twitter on Tuesday to criticize Salas’ execution and persecution of Iran’s religious minorities.
Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former political prisoner, criticized Iran’s judiciary on Twitter, and urged Iran’s reformists to speak out against the execution.
Taheri, Zalas’ lawyer, wrote on Twitter that her client’s execution was an example of “the crushing of people’s rights.”
Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement that Salas’ trial was “grossly unfair,” and that Salas was not allowed access to his chosen lawyer before or during his trial.
Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York based nonprofit, said many Sufis in Iran have been driven underground.
“Iran’s state intelligence and judiciary have decided that they should be completely denied any freedom of religion,” Ghaemi said.
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