Thursday, November 21, 2019
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Iranian Kurds Pray with Strike-Supporting Cleric, Defying Tehran

Thousands of Iranian Kurds from a northwestern border city made a defiant gesture against the government Friday by attending prayers with a cleric who supports their 20-day-old protest movement.

The residents of Baneh in Iran's Kurdistan province drove by car to a mosque several kilometers from the city to join the prayers led by local cleric Mohammad Adibi.

People who attended the service and shared images of it with VOA Persian said Adibi encouraged the worshippers to continue peacefully participating in a general strike that has paralyzed Baneh's economy since April 15.

Residents began the strike to protest Tehran's blockade of border footpaths that they rely on to import goods from Iraqi Kurdistan for sale in Baneh's thousands of stores. Adibi told the worshippers that he agreed with their demands for the government to re-open the footpaths used by porters, or kolbars, to carry Iraqi goods. He said the months-long blockade has hurt Baneh's people.

Local activists said the higher-than-usual attendance at Adibi's prayer service represented a boycott of Baneh's Iranian government-appointed Friday imam, or prayer-leader, Jamal Karimi. It was not clear how many people attended prayers at his mosque on Friday.

Residents said Baneh's internet remained cut off for a third day and special police maintained a strong street presence Friday to try to deter people from continuing the strike. But they said Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops who appeared Wednesday left the next day and did not return.

Iranian Kurds also reacted on social media to an endorsement of the Baneh protest movement from a prominent Iranian figure � exiled crown prince Reza Pahlavi.

Source: Voice of America