Iran acknowledges it has detained ‘tens of thousands’ in recent protests : NPR
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday reportedly ordered amnesty or reduced prison sentences for “tens of thousands” of people detained amid nationwide anti-government protests that it devastated the country, and he recognized for the first time the scale of the repression.
The decree by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, part of the supreme leader’s annual pardon ahead of the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, comes as authorities have yet to say how many people they detained in the demonstrations. . State media also published a list of warnings about the order disqualifying those with ties abroad or facing espionage charges — allegations that have been met with widespread international criticism.
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 by its English-language service said the pardons and commuted sentences were for “tens of thousands of convicts, including those arrested in the recent riots in Iran.” Authorities did not immediately acknowledge the discrepancy in the reports.
Reports on the decree offered no explanation for the decision by Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state in Iran. However, prisons and detention facilities have already faced overcrowding in the country after years of protests over economic and other issues.
Activists immediately rejected Khamenei’s decree.
“Khamenei’s hypocritical pardon changes nothing,” wrote Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam of the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group. “Not only should all protesters be released unconditionally, but also it is a public right that those who ordered the bloody repression and their agents be held accountable.”
The authorities also did not mention any of those who were pardoned or who saw shorter sentences. Instead, state television continued to refer to the demonstrations as a “foreign-backed uprising,” rather than homegrown anger over the September death of Masha Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman held by the country’s morality police. country. Anger was also spreading over the collapse of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, as well as Tehran arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones in its war on Ukraine.
More than 19,600 people have been arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group tracking the crackdown. At least 527 people were killed as authorities violently suppressed the demonstrations, the group said. Iran has not offered a death toll for months. It has already executed at least four people detained amid protests following internationally criticized trials.
All this comes as the Iran 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 said. Out of the chaos has emerged a shadow war between Iran and Israel, with Tehran blaming Israel for a drone attack on a military workshop in Isfahan last week as well.
Meanwhile, a long-detained opposition leader in Iran is calling for a nationwide referendum on whether to write a new constitution for the Islamic Republic.
Mir Hossein Mousavi’s call, posted late Saturday by the opposition website Kaleme, included him saying he did not believe Iran’s current system of giving the supreme leader the last word worked anymore. He also called for the formation of a constitutional assembly of “real representatives” to write a new constitution.
It is still unlikely that Iran’s theocracy will heed the call of the 80-year-old politician. He and his wife have been under house arrest for years after his contested defeat in the presidential election in 2009 led to the widespread protests of the Green Movement which the security forces also stopped. However, he himself had supported and served in Iran’s theocracy for decades.
In 2019, Mousavi compared Khamenei to former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose rule saw troops shoot protesters in an event that led to the Islamic Revolution.
Separately, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami urged “free and competitive elections” after the release of political prisoners both in prison and under house arrest.
“Reformism has at least faced … a dead end, so people have a right to be frustrated about it as they are about the ruling system,” Khatami said in a statement circulated online.
Currently, hard-liners control all the levers of power in the country. Reformists like Khatami and Mousavi previously sought to change and open up the Islamic Republic of Iran while maintaining its system. But increasingly, the protesters demanded the end of theocratic rule in the country.