DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran announced Monday that the country’s supreme leader has pardoned 22,000 people arrested in recent anti-government protests that have swept the Islamic Republic. There was no direct independent confirmation of the mass release.
The statement by the head of Iran’s judiciary, Golamhossein Mohseni Ejehi, provided the first glimpse of the full extent of the government’s crackdown that followed demonstrations over the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the country’s moral police. .
It also suggests that Iran’s theocracy now feels safe enough to acknowledge the scale of the unrest, which represents one of the most serious challenges to the establishment since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Tens of thousands were also detained during the repressions that followed the revolution.
Still, anger remains in the country as it grapples with the collapse of its national currency, the rial, economic problems and uncertainty with the world following the collapse of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015.
State news agency IRNA, citing Ejehi, announced the figure on Monday. Iranian state media had previously suggested that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could forgive the large number of people taking part in the demonstrations ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which fasts from dawn to dusk. Ramadan will start later next week.
Ejehi said a total of 82,656 prisoners and those facing charges had been pardoned. Of those, about 22,000 were arrested during the demonstrations, he said. The pardoned did not commit theft or violent crimes, he added. From his comments, it follows that the real number of those detained at the demonstrations is even higher.
In February, Iran admitted that “tens of thousands” had been detained during the protests. Monday’s confirmation from Ejeha suggested even more than what activists had previously quoted. However, there have been no mass prisoner releases reported in recent days by Iranian media reports or activists.
More than 19,700 people were arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Watch in Iran, a group that tracked the crackdown. At least 530 people have been killed in the authorities’ brutal crackdown on the demonstrations, the group said. Iran has not released a death toll for months.
The announcement also came ahead of next week’s celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. On Tuesday, some in Iran will also celebrate a nearly 4,000-year-old Persian tradition known as the Festival of Fire, which is linked to the Zoroastrian religion. Hardliners do not encourage such celebrations, seeing them as pagan relics.
Both events were surrounded by calls for anti-government protests. While mass demonstrations have cooled in recent weeks, nightly chants against Iran’s theocracy can still be heard in parts of the Iranian capital, Tehran.
The announcement followed a major development last week, when Iran and Saudi Arabia said on Friday that, brokered by China, they had agreed to restore diplomatic ties and open embassies after a seven-year freeze on relations. The deal could help end Yemen’s years-long war, in which a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels who hold the country’s capital, Sana’a. It has also helped boost the rial in recent days against the dollar.
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