Iran acknowledges 'tens of thousands' detained in protests
Amnesty announced, but those with ties abroad or charged with spying excluded
Iran's supreme leader on Sunday reportedly ordered an amnesty or reduction in prison sentences for "tens of thousands" of people detained amid nationwide anti-government protests shaking the country, acknowledging for the first time the scale of the crackdown.
The decree by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, part of a yearly pardoning the supreme leader does before the anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, comes as authorities have yet to say how many people they detained in the demonstrations.
More than 19,600 people have been arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that's been tracking the crackdown. At least 527 people have been killed as authorities violently suppressed demonstrations, the group said. Iran hasn't offered a death toll for months. It already has executed at least four people detained amid the protests after internationally criticized trials.
Khamenei "agreed to offer amnesty and reduce the sentences of tens of thousands accused and convicted in the recent incidents," the state-run IRNA news agency said in a Farsi report. A later IRNA report carried by its English-language service said the pardons and commuted sentences were for "tens of thousands of convicts, including the arrestees of the recent riots in Iran." Authorities did not immediately acknowledge the discrepancy in the reports.
State media offered a list of caveats over the order as well that means those with ties abroad or facing internationally criticized spying charges wouldn't be eligible:
- The measure is not for those charged with spying for foreign agencies or having direct contact with foreign agents, state news agency IRNA said.
- Those "affiliated with groups hostile to the Islamic Republic" are also excluded, the agency said.
- It would not apply to any of the numerous dual nationals held in Iran.
- Those accused of "corruption on earth" — a capital charge punishable by death — would not be pardoned.
- The measure would not apply to those facing charges of murder and injury and of committing destruction and arson of state property.
- "Naturally, those who do not express regret for their activities and give a written commitment for not repeating those activities, will not be pardoned," deputy judiciary chief Sadeq Rahimi said, state media reported.
State media reports about the decree offered no explanation for the decision by Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in Iran. However, prisons and detention facilities already had faced overcrowding in the country after years of protests over economic issues and other matters.
Activists immediately dismissed Khamenei's decree.
"Khamenei's hypocritical pardon doesn't change anything," wrote Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam of the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights. "Not only all protesters must be released unconditionally, but also it is a public right that those who ordered the bloody repression and their agents are held accountable."
Authorities also did not name any of those who had been pardoned or seen shorter sentences. Instead, state television for instance referred to the demonstrations as being a "foreign-backed riot," rather than homegrown anger over the September death of Masha Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman detained by the country's morality police.
Anger also has been spreading over the collapse of the Iranian rial against the U.S. dollar, as well as Tehran arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones in its war on Ukraine.
All this comes as Iran's nuclear deal has collapsed and Tehran has enough highly enriched uranium to potentially build "several" atomic bombs if it chooses, the United Nations' top nuclear envoy has said. A shadow war between Iran and Israel has risen out of the chaos, with Tehran blaming Israel for a drone attack on a military workshop in Isfahan last week as well.
Call for nationwide referendum
Meanwhile, a long-detained opposition leader in Iran is calling for a nationwide referendum about whether to write a new constitution for the Islamic Republic.
Mir Hossein Mousavi's call, posted late Saturday by the opposition Kaleme website, included him saying he didn't believe Iran's current system giving final say to a supreme leader worked any longer. He also called for the formation of a constitutional assembly of "real representatives" to write a new constitution.
It remains unlikely Iran's theocracy will heed the 80-year-old politician's call. He and his wife have been under house arrest for years after his disputed presidential election loss in 2009 led to the widespread Green Movement protests that security forces also put down. However, he himself had supported and served in Iran's theocracy for decades.
In 2019, Mousavi compared Khamenei to the former shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose rule saw troops gun down demonstrators in an event that led to the Islamic Revolution.
With files from Reuters