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Six People Said Killed, 300 Arrests At Sufi Protest In Iran

Iranian security forces clash with members of the Gonabadi Sufi community in Tehran on February 19.
Iranian security forces clash with members of the Gonabadi Sufi community in Tehran on February 19.

Five security officers have been killed and 300 people arrested amid clashes between law enforcement authorities and Sufi Muslim protesters in Tehran, police say.

Members of the Gonabadi Sufi order, who are known as dervishes, said that at least one of their number was killed by security forces after clashes broke out during their protest in northern Tehran on February 19.

The Gonabadis were protesting outside a police station against the arrest of at least one member of the religious community, according to accounts relayed to RFE/RL or posted on social media.

Footage circulating on social media and broadcast by state television showed a bus plowing into a group of police officers in northern Tehran, an incident that police initially said left three officers dead.

WATCH: Another video posted shortly afterward shows a car plowing through security forces, reportedly leaving one Basiji dead.

On February 20, police spokesman Saeed Montazer Almehdi said two members of the paramilitary Basij force, which is linked to the hard-line conservative Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), were also killed.

"Two of our dear Basijis were martyred by the superstitious cult," Almehdi was quoted as saying by the semiofficial ISNA news agency.

Montazer Almehdi added that "more than 300" people had been arrested, including the driver of the bus.

The Iranian authorities' account could not be independently verified.

In one video, protesters can be heard telling security forces that they did not want to fight but they were left no choice.

Supporters of Gonabandi Sufi leader Nurali Tabandeh, who is 90, have been holding sporadic sit-ins near his home in Tehran, worried that he could be detained by police.

Members of the community gathered outside police Precinct 102 on February 19 to protest the arrest of one of its members, Nematollah Riahi, 72, who they said had come to Tehran to help protect Tabandeh and his home.

"Some 100 policemen attacked the dervishes and shot at them," Kasra Nouri, a dervish taking part in the gathering, told RFE/RL.

"We are worried about our security in the area [and] are defending our leader.... Our resolve is to defend him up to the last drop of our blood," he said.

Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, is not illegal in Iran but rights groups accuse the Iranian government of harassment and discrimination against their followers, including the Gonabadis, one of the largest Sufi sects.

Several dervishes have been arrested in the last two months, according to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.

In March 2017, the UN special rapporteur for Iran expressed concern over the state targeting of members of Sufi groups, saying they "continue to face arbitrary arrest, harassment, and detention and are often accused of national security crimes."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa