03/14/2023, 18.19
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Iran ‘pardons’ 22,000 people involved in the Mahsa Amini protests, but doubts remain about the real number

Iran’s Chief Justice Mohseni-Eje'i announces pardon just before the start of Ramadan (sacred month of fasting and prayer). A monitoring NGO reports almost 20,000 arrests and more than 500 deaths. Different figures raise questions about the extent of the crackdown on dissent in the Islamic Republic.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – Iranian judicial authorities have pardoned 22,000 people who took part in protests following the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman who died in custody of the morality police in Tehran.

"So far 82,000 people have been pardoned, including 22,000 people who participated in protests," said Iran’s Chief Justice, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje'i, quoted by IRNA, Iran’s official news agency.

In early February, state media reported that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had issued a pardon for “tens of thousands” of prisoners, including some of those who had participated in protests that were brutally put down.

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last September had triggered spontaneous and peaceful wave of demonstrations led by women angered by the fact that she had died for not correctly wearing the compulsory headscarf, which has now become a symbol of oppression.

The chief justice did not specify when the pardon was granted nor for what period and there is no independent confirmations of any mass release.

Nevertheless, the announcement offers for the first time an overview of the extent of government repression during the protest, for which various figures were bandied about.

The announcement also shows that the Islamic Republic, after months of unrest and bloodshed, feels confident enough to speak out and shed some light on a movement that, for many, is the most serious threat to the regime since the revolution in 1979.

The anger of part of the population remains though, this in a country burdened by a deep economic crisis, high unemployment, currency collapse, and uncertain relations with the outside world, with sanctions still in place following the collapse of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Khamenei’s pardon also appears to be linked to the upcoming month of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and prayer.

According to Mohseni-Eje'i, a total of 82,656 prisoners or defendants benefited from the pardon – of these, 22,628 were arrested during street protests. None stole or committed any violent crime.

What is interesting about the numbers is that the true scale of the arrests could indeed be far greater than what was made public so far.

According to a monitoring group, Human Rights Activists in Iran, the authorities arrested more than 19,700 people in recent months, while at least 530 died in clashes with security forces or police.

This number is far lower than the number of people involved in protests mentioned by the authorities if Iran’s chief justice is to be believed.

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

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