Iran pardons 22,000 people arrested in anti-government protests

Protesters in Iran – AP

Iran’s Supreme Leader has pardoned more than 22,000 people arrested in recent anti-government protests, the head of the judiciary has announced.

The announcement by the chief of the judiciary Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei suggests that the security crackdown against protesters following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody last September was even wider than was previously known.

Mr Ejehi said 22,628 people arrested for “rioting” had been pardoned as part of 82,656 pardons issued ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is a traditional time for amnesties.

Those convicted of violent offences were not included in the amnesty, Mr Ejehi said, in a statement published by state-run IRNA news agency on Monday.

The number of announced pardons was higher than the number of arrests verified by human rights groups as part of anti-government protests that swept the country following Ms Amini’s death, suggesting that the crackdown against protesters was even wider than was previously thought.

Watchdog group Human Rights Activists in Iran has recorded 19,700 protest-related arrests since September, in addition to 530 people killed during crackdowns on demonstrations. At least four people have been executed for offences related to the protests.

With the protests now largely contained, the announcement of pardons suggests that Tehran feels secure enough to concede the scale of the demonstrations, which posed one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

No independent confirmation of pardons

There has been no independent confirmation of mass release of prisoners and regime critics cautioned against accepting the government’s announcements at face value.

“When you have a regime in which there is no rule of law, you cannot trust this kind of baseless statistic that the regime proclaims,” Iranian lawyer Ehsan Hosseinzadeh told i24 News.

He suggested that a desire to reduce overcrowding in prisons could be the real reason behind any mass prisoner release that does occur.

“From day one there was no transparent accounting of who was arrested and imprisoned — before or after the mass protests these past months — which is why there’s no way to verify how many are being released now,” Jasmin Ramsey, the deputy director of the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, told the Associated Press.

“We also know that more than five months after the death of … Mahsa Amini in state custody, not a single Iranian official has been held accountable for the mass killings of street protesters, nor the arbitrary imprisonments of tens of thousands.”

On Tuesday, five Iranian women who posted a video of a choreographed dance for International Women’s Day appeared in a new video to apologise after they were reportedly arrested.

The women, who performed the routine unveiled, appeared in a video filmed at the same location wearing headscarves saying they regretted their actions. Activists condemned Iranian authorities for what appeared to be a coerced apology.