Iran arrests sect members over Taheri death penalty protests
Iran has arrested at least 13 members of a "deviant" spiritual movement after they protested the death sentence given to the founder of their group, local media reported on Monday.
"Three activists and elements in the anti-security activities of the Erfan Kayhani ("Cosmic Mysticism") sect have been arrested by intelligence agents in Tehran this morning," the Tasnim news agency said. Ten other members of the group had been arrested in recent days, it added.
They were "organising and leading demonstrations, sit-ins and other security actions to pressure the judiciary" against the death sentence of their spiritual leader Mohammad Ali Taheri.
The 61-year-old Taheri founded his Islamic movement in the early 2000s and quickly became a well-known spiritual leader, appearing on state television and giving classes at Tehran University. He promoted alternative medicine and followed what he said were messages from spirits. But as his popularity grew, he fell foul of Iran's clerical establishment and was sentenced to death in June 2015 for "corruption on earth" – the gravest charge in the Islamic republic.
The sentence was annulled later that year by the supreme court, which ordered a retrial. But the death penalty has recently been reimposed by a lower court, despite Taheri repenting his actions and saying he would abandon the movement.
"The case was reviewed and the court ruled for corruption on earth for the totality of the actions by this person," said judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie, according to the Mizan Online agency on 3 September. He said the decision could be appealed.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement condemning the conviction.
Taheri, who was born in Kermanshah in western Iran, was first detained for a short period in 2010. He was rearrested in May 2011 and held in solitary confinement before being charged with "insulting Islamic sanctities" and "corruption on earth".
The conservative-dominated judiciary has called the movement "satanic" and cracked down on its followers, whose numbers are unknown.
At least 12 more people were arrested earlier this year in Isfahan province – 11 in July and one in August – for links to the movement.
Iran recognises the monotheistic religions that came before Islam, such as Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, allowing considerable freedom to their followers. But it has cracked down on new Islamic sects that challenge the authority of Iran's Shia clerics, particularly the Bahai movement that emerged in 19th century and is now banned. (AFP)
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