Interview with Molavi Ali Akbar Mollahzadeh

The Iran Brief - Issue Number 35, June 2, 1997

Copyright © 1994-97, by the Middle East Data Project, Inc.All rights reserved.

For more information about The Iran Brief or how to subscribe,send e-mail to or fax us at (301) 942-5341

Iran's eastern province of Sistan va Balouchistan, which lies alongthe Pakistani border, has long been a hotbed of opposition to the Tehranregime, and Balouchi Sunnis voted massively against the hand-picked candidateof the ruling Shiite clergy, Hojjat-ol eslam Nateq Nouri in the presidentialelections.

A low intensity insurgency has been raging in Balouchistan for severalyears, which The Iran Brief has reportedly on regularly. The official mediain Tehran obliquely refers to the fighting as armed clashes between theLaw Enforcement Forces and "bandits," "drug-smugglers,"and "thugs," to disguise the true nature of the conflict. Inits effort to quell the rebellion, the Rev. Guards have stationed severalcrack brigades in Balouchi cities, and have tracked down leaders of theBalouchi Sunni community and assassinated them inside Iran and in neighboringPakistan.

Last year, a leading Sunnite cleric, Molavi Abdulmalek Mollahzadeh,was gunned down by hitmen hired by Tehran as he was leaving his house inKarachi (see TIB 3/4/96). To better understand the conflict in IranianBalouchistan, and the opposition of Balouchi Sunnis to the regime in Tehran,The Iran Brief spoke with Molavi Ali Akbar Mollahzadeh, the younger brotherof the slain Balouchi leader, during a recent visit he made to Washington,DC.

The Iran Brief: How long has this conflict been going on?

Molavi Ali Akbar Mollahzadeh: Almost since the start of the IranianRevolution. In the beginning, most people thought this was a real revolution,a revolution of the people, and that there might be freedom in Iran. Sowhen [Ayatollah] Khomeini called my father , Molavi Abdulaziz [who wasrecognized as the most prominent Sunni Muslim cleric in Iran at the time- eds], he agreed to go to Tehran, and visited with Khomeini every twoor three months, since at the time he was the leader of the Islamic UnityParty. Very soon, however, there were problems, and the new regime begankilling people in Balouchistan. My father would ask Khomeini, why are youdoing this? But Khomeini would just say, this is the Revolution, just bepatient. As the new constitution was being drafted, my father assailedKhomeini for the many anti-Sunni clauses, which forbid Sunnis from becomingPresident or from other high office. Khomeini said he could do nothingabout it, since it was being debated by the Constituent Assembly. In theend, my father and the other Balouchi deputy refused to sign the Constitution.The only other Sunni member of the Constituent Assembly, Abdulrahman Qassemlou,was head of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran and was already undersiege by government forces in Kurdistan, so he never attended the vote.And that began the break between my father and Khomeini, because Khomeinirefused to solve the problems of our people.

The Iran Brief: What was your response to the new constitution?

Molavi Ali Akbar: Six months later, Sunni leaders from Kurdistan,Balouchistan, and Khorassan, set up a new party known as Shami, which isshort for Shora-ye Markaz-e al Sunaat, to unite all Sunnis against thegovernment and lobby for our rights. But six months after that, we wereclosed down by the government on charges that we were backed by Saudi Arabiaand Pakistan. They jailed my brother and 400 other people, and closed ourbank accounts. They arrested another other leader of the movement, Ala'amaAhmad Muftizadeh, who is a Kurd, and kept him in jail for ten years alongwith many of his students and followers. After that, there were variousattempts at armed insurrection in the mid-1980s, in particular one group,founded by Mohammad Khan Lashari, known as Jumbesh Mujahedin Balouchistan,that received money from Iraq. But as clerics, we have always argued fornon-violent struggle, and the respect for human rights.

The Iran Brief: You believe that Khomeini actually tricked your father...

Molavi Ali Akbar: When my father was attending the ConstituentAssembly in 1980, he frequently spoke with Khomeini about Sunni rights.There were at the time some 500,000 Sunnis living in Tehran, but they hadno mosque and were praying in a Pakistani school. So my father asked Khomeinifor land to build a mosque. Khomeini agreed to give him 10,000 square metersof land just behind the Tehran Hilton, and announced the gift in all theTehran newspapers. But when my father went to the Tehran municipality toget building permits, they said they had never received the order. He keptgoing back week after week, for more than six months, and still they saidthey had never received the order from Khomeini. How can you believe suchpeople when they lie like that? Today, there are 1 million Sunnis livingin Tehran, and still they have no mosque. How can this regime claim tobe the leader of the entire Islamic world when Iranian Sunni Muslims haveno place where they can even pray?

The Iran Brief: What do Balouchis and Iranian Sunnis want?

Molavi Ali Akbar: We are Iranians by passport and by nation,and so we want our rights as Iranians. We want our rights in Balouchistan,in Kurdistan, in Khorassan. We want to be allowed to work, to have ourown people in the police. We don't want them to bring people from Tehranwho are enemies of our people as police and to run the entire administration.They give all the jobs to their own people. By the Constitution, if youare not a Shia you cannot be a Minister. If they make a factory, they givethe job to their relatives and to their own people. They bring in hundredsof thousands of people, to make them a majority in Balouchistan and inKurdistan. They are not actually sending Balouchis out, but they are pushingthem out by these discriminatory policies. There are now 200,000 Balouchisworking in Gulf countries, because they can't get jobs in Balouchistan.

The Iran Brief: How does that discrimination work?

Molavi Ali Akbar: If a Balouchi wants to open a shop, he mustfirst go to the government and get his political beliefs thoroughly examinedby the Pasdaran and the intelligence services. They ask: have you doneanything for the Islamic Republic? Did you fight in the Iraq-Iran war?Do you believe in the Velayat-e faghih? Sunnis don't believe in the Velayat-efaghih - it is against our beliefs, and because we don't believe in taqiyah,which we consider to be lying, we must answer the truth. The result isthat Sunnis don't get the permit to open the shop, they don't get jobs,they don't get places in the university - unless they agree to become informersfor the intelligence services. Out of 5,000 students at Balouchistan universityin Zahedan, there are only 10 or 15 Balouchis. Even the education law ofthe Islamic Republic says that 75% should be Balouchis - and now, 99% arenon-Balouchi. They treat us like the Untouchables in India.

The Iran Brief: The Tehran government frequently accuses Balouchisof involvement in drug smuggling, and uses this to justify a very heavypolice and Pasdaran presence in Balouchistan. Are these allegations true?

Molavi Ali Akbar: There are no drugs grown in Balouchistan. Theyall come from Afghanistan. Balouchistan has become a transit route forAfghan drugs en route to Turkey and Europe. The scale is very large: Maybe$60 billion or $70 billion per year. But most Balouchis have nothing todo with this traffic. Those who are involved have been pushed into it bythe Tehran government. The Rev. Guards and the intelligence services encourageBalouchis to go into business with them.

The Iran Brief: So a lot of the drug dealers have government connections?Molavi Ali Akbar: Yes. They are offered a share in the profits by the Pasdaranand the SAVAMA. They load the drugs at the Afghan border onto PasdaranLand Cruisers, and pay protection money to the Pasdars to allow safe passage.

The Iran Brief: What about the clashes? Molavi Ali Akbar: Thisis to show the world that the Islamic Republic is fighting against drugs.And it is also to crack down on dealers who refuse to give a share of thetake to the Pasdaran. Informers tell the Pasdaran that a convoy is comingfrom one of these people - and that's when they attack. They also use thedrug trade as an excuse to kill Balouchis. We have seen intelligence andPasdaran officers handing out drugs for free to young Balouchis in ourvillages. We have caught them red-handed, and turned them over to the localpolice. Before we have even left the police station, they are released.But when they catch Balouchis, they keep them for years, or hang them.Why do they never catch drug dealers in central Iran? Or in Azerbaijan,when the drugs are going over the border into Turkey? Because they wantto kill Balouchis.

Where do you think the Islamic Republic gets its money? It is only earning$18 billion or so per year from oil sales. The drug trade is a tremendoussource of revenue for the Tehran government. This is not the Balouchisfault; we are just in the way. They are using us - and then using drugsas an excuse to kill us.

The Iran Brief: What can the U.S. do, if anything, to help Iraniansand Balouchis secure their rights?

Molavi Ali Akbar: First, get other countries to stop tradingwith Iran, to stop helping them to earn money. And then, stop the movementof Iranian diplomats and undercover agents throughout the world. Stop theirterrorist networks, their intelligence networks. Shut down their embassies.The regime is using Islamic centers and mosques as their eyes and earsin the United States. They are using the freedom that you have here tointimidate people, just as they do in Iran and in other countries. Andthen, we would like the U.S. to make the Arab countries understand thatthese people are against them, too. They are working against them in Bahrain,in Saudi Arabia, in Syria, and in Lebanon. In Iraq, they want to topplethe government. If all these countries adopt the Islamic Republic's policies,it will bring death to the people of the region.

Look at Saudi Arabia. They say Saudi citizens carried out the bombingin Dhahran; but where does a Saudi learn about bombing techniques? He learnsit in Lebanon, in areas controlled by Iran. In the 1980s, I used to flyfrequently to Iran from the Gulf. I would board a Saudia plane in Jeddahwith Saudi Shias. We'd stop in Damascus to change planes, and then I wouldsee the same persons reboard the Iran Air flight to Tehran, but now theywould be using different passports. Who do you think was helping them withfalse passports and new identities and money?

I don't know what the Americans are looking for in terms of evidence,but it is very clear to us. Iran is the one providing the training andthe money for international terrorism, and the Saudis just react in fear.We have a saying: if you are afraid of a lion, do you think this will preventhim from eating you? What good does it do the Saudis to be afraid of Iranwhen day and night they are working against the Saudis. Instead, the Saudisshould act.

The Iran Brief: You have become an outspoken opponent of the regimein Tehran. Are you afraid for your family?

Molavi Ali Akbar: What can I do? This is a regime that has norespect for human rights, but we have to take a stand. They tried to assassinateme in 1991 in Pakistan, mistaking me for my brother. Then last year, theyfinally succeeded in killing my brother, Abdulmalek, in Karachi... Sincethen, they have been following me, first in Pakistan, then in Dubai. Ifinally left Dubai because I was told by friends in the Interior ministrythere that the Tehran regime had sent a team of killers after me, and thatthey would not be able to protect me. I have been never called for violentstruggle against the regime, but have continued to ask that they respectinternational standards of human rights. So why do they come after me?

They call themselves Muslims, and yet they kill people for supportinghuman rights. There is nothing Islamic about this. But they know that Iam the last one left from my family, and that our family has a very goodname in Balouchistan. They are afraid because 15 million Sunnis in Iranstill remember the name of my father, Abdulaziz. They are afraid I willstart a movement that will mobilize Iranian Sunnis to oppose them, thatI will use my father's name to lead our people to freedom.