Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Sheikh Ahmad Sayad


Age: 50
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Civil Status: Single


Date of Killing: February 1, 1996
Location of Killing: 22 Bahman Square, Minab, Hormozgan Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Extrajudicial Execution

About this Case

Information about the extra-judicial killing of Sheikh Ahmad Sayad, also known as Molavi Ahmad Mirin, was collected from articles and video by the Baluch Campaign (2/14/16, 2/16/2016), a video broadcast by Kalameh TV (5/31/18), a report from the UN Commission on Human Rights (3/21/96), a BBC interview with an attendee of his funeral on February 3, 1996 published to YouTube on October 30, 2009, and a post on the weblog of the Dar Al-Sunnah Institute in Zarabad, of which Mr. Sayad was the founder and custodian. Background information was obtained from 1997 reports by Human Rights Watch, a 2016 article by the Middle East Institute, a 2017 article from Al-Monitor, and a 2018 report by Minority Rights Group International.

In 1946 in Ganjak, one of a few villages in Karvan, Sistan and Baluchestan Province, Dr. Sayad was born into a family of modest means. Economic hardship prompted his family to relocate throughout his childhood, to Sindh and then Karachi, Pakistan before moving back to Karvan. Dr. Sayad studied Hanafi jurisprudence under the guidance of his uncle, a Mullah, when he was a teenager (DAI).  Later when his father moved to Doha, Qatar to improve the family’s financial situation, Dr. Sayad – by this time a young man – went with him. Dr. Sayad was a Baluch and religious institutional leader within the Salafi branch of Sunni Islam.

Dr. Sayad headed a mosque there before receiving help from a mosque trustee and well-known Sheikh to pursue undergraduate studies in Madina, Saudi Arabia. He chose to study the Hadith, or the intricate collection and conservation of the prophet’s words and actions from different source accounts throughout history, and obtained master’s and doctoral degrees in Hadith sciences (DAI). His studies afforded him a network and knowledge base in the fields of ethics, Arabic language, and jurisprudence. While these credentials could have earned him prestigious positions outside Iran he preferred to return home in the Iranian year 1364 (March 21, 1985 → March 20, 1986) and established a mosque and a quranic school called the Dar Al-Sunnah Institute in Zarabad, a remote village in Baluchistan (DAI).

Those who knew Sayad spoke of a dignified man with a humble appearance who devoted his life to religious studies and to others. He took active part in his family’s household chores, did yard work at the mosque, unclogged pipes in the mosque bathroom, and refused to have items brought to him. He moved congregants both through his sermons and the down-to-earth way that he lived; even those with whom he had differences spoke highly of him, and people travelled from all over Iran just to meet with him.

First Arrest and Imprisonment

Dr. Sayad travelled to Saudi Arabia each year to raise funds for his mosque (BBC), and had been running it for two years when he was arrested in the Iranian year 1367 (3/21/88 → 3/20/89) (DAI). He spent five years confined to Evin prison, an ordeal that he said was transformative for him and emboldened his faith. Upon his release he went back to developing his institute in Zarabad, though loved ones implored him to leave Iran for his personal safety (DAI, BBC). One year and nine months after his release from prison, Dr. Sayad began getting summons to Zahedan, where he was interrogated multiple times (BBC). 


Believed to make up one to three percent of the country’s population (ABC), Baluchi ethnic groups make up the majority of the population in Sistan-Baluchistan, where 64-77 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Despite having abundant gas, oil, gold, and marine resources, approximately two thirds of residents lack access to clean drinking water, and economic policies have allowed it to remain one of the poorest-sourced provinces in education, health, and food. Civil unrest in the region has given way to militant opposition groups and fatal skirmishes. In moving to bring the region under tighter control, the government has resorted to violence, including assassinations, as well as arbitrary arrests of peaceful human rights defenders. Ten Baluch civil rights activists were arbitrarily detained between March and September of 2017 alone (MRG).

Iran's Baluch minority are mostly Sunni Muslims, whereas the majority of Iran’s population are Shi'a Muslims. Policies and actions from authorities have been restrictive toward the practice of Sunni Islam, e.g. limiting and even blocking the construction of Sunni mosques in majority-Sh’ia areas (including Tehran), arbitrary closure of Sunni prayer halls and celebratory gatherings, and violence from security forces towards groups of Sunnis praying in public (MRG, HRW: Religious Minorities, AL). Lack of institutional support pushes Sunni leaders to pursue study in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, a trend which has historically aroused government suspicion due both to the hostility of Wahabism (the dominant branch of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia) towards Shiism, and to the political tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Baluch activists reported that government repression of Sunni Baluch groups had increased since February 1994, when locals gathered at Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan, to protest the destruction of a Sunni mosque in Mashhad. Government agents reportedly fired shots into the crowd and detained several activists (HRW: Ethnic Minorities). Dr. Sayad was one of four Sunni clerics of Baluch or Kurd descent to die in suspicious circumstances between 1994 and 1996 (UN, BC article 2/14/16).


Salafism is a branch of Sunni Islam which aims to refine and promote Islam as it was practiced by its founding generatons (DAI). Sometimes controversial for its fundamentalist nature, Salafism, along with Wahhabism, has found itself the target of Iranian government campaigns to reduce its influence in schools and civic life (MEI). 


On January 28, 1996, Dr. Sayad, age 50, was returning to Iran from Saudi Arabia where he was raising funds for his institute. A relative who had gone to meet him at the Bandar Abbas airport said that he was escorted away by two plainclothes agents, telling the relative that he would be back the next day. At 2pm that afternoon, Dr. Sayad called the parliamentary deputy of Iranshahr as well as notables of Chabahar, Sistan-Baluchistan, to reiterate that he would return the next day (BBC).

Death of Sheikh Ahmad Sayad

According to available sources, since the sighting at the airport and subsequent phone call to local leaders Dr. Sayad was neither seen nor heard from again (BBC). Five days later on February 1, his body was found in the Bandar Abbas suburb of Minab, near a square that serves as a transportation hub (BBC, BC text and video 2/16/16, DAI). The body bore signs of torture (HRW). As of the date of this report, no information is available on his manner of death.

Sources close to Dr. Sayad believe he was assassinated by Iranian authorities. They cite that he was last seen in the company of intelligence agents, and that locals had been questioned about his return date from Saudi Arabia. The sources also point to the multiple occasions that Dr. Sayad was summoned to Zahedan for questioning after his release from prison, and that no charges had ever been presented to warrant his imprisonment or interrogations.

State Response

The Special Representative of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights requested information on Dr. Sayad’s death from Iranian authorities in March of 1996 (UN). As of February 2016, the state had yet to pursue an inquiry into the circumstances of his death (BC 2/14/16). Sources close to Dr. Sayad reported that state representatives were present at his funeral. As of the date of this report, his death has yet to be reported by official news sources in Iran. 

Family Response

Surrounded by his children and his students, Sheikh Ahmad Sayad was laid to rest in Ganjak on February 3, 1996 (DAI, BC 2/16/16). 

On September 29, 2017, some of his followers created a channel on the messaging application Telegram to share religious media, commemorations of Dr. Sayad and his school, and information on fellow Baluch leaders who were killed.

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