Middle East

Iran mobile company indicted for ''insulting Sunnis''

Iranian holding a mobile phone
Image caption The company says it made an 'unintentional mistake'

Authorities in Iran have indicted the main mobile network operator, Irancell, on charges of insulting Sunni Muslims in an SMS competition.

Irancell was strongly criticised by Iran's Sunni community over the contest, which allegedly insulted the Sunni's revered Calipha, Omar.

The indictment was made by the Prosecutor General of the predominantly Sunni Province of Sistan-Baluchestan.

Iranian Sunnis have long accused the government of discrimination.

Irancell has blamed the company which provided it with questions for the competition.

The company, a religious cultural organisation, has since apologised for the ''unintentional" mistake.

The company reportedly asked subscribers: ''Which judge was deceived by the Devil during the time of [the first Shia Imam] Imam Ali?'' The second choice offered was Omar.

In the indictment, Irancell has been accused of ''violating unity between Shia and Sunnis''.

A prominent Sunni leader in Sistan Baluchestan lodged a formal complaint against Irancell and called on his followers to boycott the company.

Sunnis are believed to comprise about 10% to 20% of Iran's population, but estimates vary because there are no official figures.

The Sunni community are represented in Iran's parliament but none have held a ministerial position. Activists regularly complain that Sunni representation is not proportional either nationally nor on a local level.

Sunni MPs voiced their anger in Sunday's parliamentary session and urged judicial authorities to take ''serious'' and ''acceptable'' measures to punish Irancell.

Iranian authorities are wary of sectarianism in the country. Their rhetoric stresses the theme of Muslim unity, accusing Sunni radicals and foreign powers ''sowing sectarian discord''.

Sunni communities in Iran are mainly concentrated along Iran's border provinces of Sistan-Baluchestan and Kurdistan.

In recent years, these areas have seen unrest fuelled by sectarianism, ethnic tensions and drug related criminal activity.

More autonomy and equal opportunities for Sunnis has been a campaign theme of reformists and moderates within the Shia establishment.

However, Iranian Shia clerics close to government circles deny that there is discrimination against Sunnis.