TEHRAN — The founder of a mystical, New Age version of Shiite Islam was sentenced to death by an Iranian court after losing an appeal, his lawyer said on Monday.
However, the religious mystic, Mohammad Ali Taheri, who was convicted on charges of founding a cult, is entitled to another appeal, the lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, said. An earlier death sentence for blasphemy against the 61-year old Mr. Taheri was overturned in 2014 by an appeals court.
In recent weeks, dozens of Mr. Taheri’s followers have been arrested across the country, especially around the central Iranian city of Isfahan.
But opponents of the spiritual leader say his conviction has nothing to do with proselytizing for a cult, saying he has had “illegitimate” sexual relations with women.
“He has committed sodomy,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line political analyst. Sodomy, if testified to by at least four separate witnesses, also carries the death sentence in Iran. His followers deny the accusations.
Around 2005, Mr. Taheri, a researcher in alternative medicines, founded a group called Circle of Mysticism, focused on faith-based healings and their understandings of the universe. Initially, Mr. Taheri’s teachings were tolerated by Iran’s religious establishment, which is quite restrictive about alternative versions of its understanding of Shiite Islam. He was allowed to give public speeches and publish books, and attracted a following across the country.
In a video laying out his theories, Mr. Taheri says that “humans are as extensive as the universe and are comprised of infinite parts.” He says that people can act as healers and find cures, using “ultra healing, which works beyond human knowledge.”
As Mr. Taheri’s following grew, hard-line clerics started objecting to his practices, saying that he was a “false mystic” and that his group was “a deviant sect.”
He was first arrested in 2010 but released soon after. In 2011, Mr. Taheri was arrested again, and has remained in prison ever since.
In rejecting his appeal on Sunday, a revolutionary courtruled that he was “spreading corruption on earth,” an Islamic ruling often reserved for apostates, political figures and fraudulent businessmen, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported.
Also on Sunday, a couple dozen of his followers protested the death sentence in front of one of Tehran’s revolutionary courts. It is unclear if any of these people were arrested. Some months ago, during a similar protest, in front of Evin prison in Tehran, several were arrested.
“He has taught me to connect to God through happiness not sorrow,” said Saba Motmaen, a 27-year-old web administrator and follower of Mr. Taheri. While she has never met him, she said that the spiritual world was more dear to her than her own life, and that he had opened it up to her.
“He is a great teacher, who taught me and others how to connect to God,” she said. “Many great people have gone to the scaffolds. He has stood by his beliefs. This proves his righteousness.”