Iran pardons 22,000 detained during protests

Protesters must apologise and pledge not to repeat actions which led to detention

Iran’s judiciary has announced an amnesty for 82,000 prisoners, including 22,000 detained during mass protests against the clerical government and its policies.

Iran’s chief justice Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i said pardons were decreed by the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who last month announced the release of “tens of thousands” of prisoners.

To qualify, protesters must apologise and pledge not to repeat actions which led to detention.

Of the 60,000 others, 25,000 were released or had their sentences quashed while 34,000 had their sentences reduced. Mr Mohseni-Eje’i said convicted protesters were pardoned before verdicts were delivered by the courts. Those involved in “violent crimes and thefts” have not received amnesty.


It has not been revealed how many prisoners have been freed or if there are protest leaders among them.

Activists have argued that previously amnestied prisoners have not been freed.

Countrywide protests led by women and girls erupted in mid-September after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman detained by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly failing to wear her headscarf (hijab) as mandated by law.

The government responded with a harsh crackdown. Expatriate Iranian rights groups report at least 527 protesters have been killed and 20,000 arrested, 12 sentenced to death and four executed.

The New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) called the amnesty “a political ploy aimed at covering up vast and blatant violations of human rights since the protests began.” CHRI director Hadi Ghaemi said: “All of the detained protesters and other political prisoners should be released immediately and unconditionally, not as a benevolent act but because that is the law.”

CHRI quoted former political prisoner Leila Hosseinzadeh who tweeted: “The government, with all its spending on repression, does not have the necessary infrastructure to successfully manage the mass arrest of protesters for long durations. The presence of a large number of prisoners with accumulating demands carries a security risk for the government inside and out of prison in the long run.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s interior ministry appears to have countered suggestions that hundreds of girls have exhibited mass hysteria rather than being sickened during attacks on their schools. The ministry announced the arrest of more than 100 people “in connection with” suspected poisonings. The state-run news agency IRNA quoted a ministry statement which said alleged perpetrators have been “identified, arrested and investigated”.

Initial inquiries show they are “individuals who have hostile motives, tried to create fear and horror among people and students, shut down schools, and create pessimism toward” the government.

The ministry had tried to play down the poisonings by saying the substances used were not toxic, attacks were carried out during heightened psychological tensions caused by protests, and incidents have decreased recently.

Iranian human rights groups report that at least 5,000 schoolgirls have smelled noxious odours in class at more than 230 schools in 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces. Some 2,500 were affected by the fumes and hundreds hospitalised due to breathing difficulties, numbness in legs and arms, heart palpitations, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Many reported a rotten smell which German toxicologist Carsten Schleh suggested to Deutsche Welle could be hydrogen sulphide. He said, “It smells of rotten eggs, even in low concentrations, and a small amount can cause respiratory problems, headaches, and so on.”

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times