The Independent

Iran pardons 22,000 held during mass street protests


Iran says it has pardoned more than 22,000 people arrested in the anti-government protests that have swept the country – offering a glimpse into the extent of the crackdown on dissent.

There was no immediate independen­t confirmati­on of the mass release, announced in a statement by Iran‘s judiciary head

Gholamhoss­ein Mohseni-Ejei. The demonstrat­ions began in September following the death Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s morality police.

It does suggest that Iran’s rulers now feel secure enough to admit the scale of the unrest, which represente­d one of the most serious challenges to the establishm­ent since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Tens of thousands were also detained in the purges that followed the revolution.

However, anger still remains in the country as it struggles through the collapse of the nation’s currency, the rial, economic woes, and uncertaint­y over its ties to the wider world after the collapse of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Mr Ejehi as announcing the figure yesterday. Iranian state media had previously suggested Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, could pardon thousands of people ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts next week.

Mr Ejehi said a total of 82,656 prisoners and those facing charges had been pardoned. Of those, some 22,628 had been arrested during the demonstrat­ions, he said. Those pardoned had not committed theft or violent crimes, he added. He did not specify over what period the pardons were granted or if or when the people had been charged.

Mr Ejehi’s comments suggest that the true total of those detained in the demonstrat­ions is even greater. However, there's been no mass release of prisoners documented in recent days by Iranian media reports or activists.

More than 19,700 people have been arrested during the protests, according to human rights activists in Iran, a group that’s been tracking the crackdown. At least 530 people have been killed as authoritie­s violently suppressed demonstrat­ions, the group said. Iran has not offered a death toll for months.

“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,” said Jasmin Ramsey, the deputy director of the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.

The judiciary’s announceme­nt also came ahead of next week’s celebratio­n of Nowruz, the Persian new year. Today, some in Iran also mark the nearly 4,000-year-old Persian tradition known as the Festival of Fire that’s linked to the Zoroastria­n religion. Hardliners discourage such celebratio­ns, viewing them as pagan holdovers. There had been calls for anti-government protests around both events. While mass demonstrat­ions have cooled in recent weeks, nightly chants against Iran's theocracy can still be heard in some neighborho­ods of Iran’s capital, Tehran.

The announceme­nt followed a major developmen­t last week, when Iran and Saudi Arabia said on Friday that with China’s mediation, they agreed to reestablis­h diplomatic ties and reopen embassies after a seven-year freeze in relations. That agreement could help aid an end to the war in Yemen, which sees a Saudiled coalition battle the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who hold its capital, Sana’a. It has also helped to boost the rial in recent days against the dollar.

Meanwhile, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko visited Tehran yesterday and met with his Iranian counterpar­t, Ebrahim Raisi. Iran has been supplying the drones that Russia now uses in its war on Ukraine. Mr Lukashenko, the authoritar­ian leader of Belarus, remains close to Russia, which used Belarusian territory to launch part of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Lukashenko said his country and Iran would sign an unspecifie­d set of deals valued at $100m (£82m). Iran “opposes external pressure, attempts to impose someone else's will”, Mr Lukashenko said, addressing his hosts. “And how, in spite of everything, you develop modern technologi­es and nuclear energy. And, as we decided today with the president of Iran, we can be very useful to each other if we truly unite our efforts.”

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 ?? ?? Widespread anti-government demonstrat­ions such as this one in Tehran started last September (AFP)
Widespread anti-government demonstrat­ions such as this one in Tehran started last September (AFP)

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