Iran says it pardoned 22,000 protesters, but its motives have been questioned

Key points
  • Iran says it has pardoned a total of 82,656 prisoners and others facing charges.
  • There is speculation that the number released could be much higher.
  • Protests swept the country following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
Iran says it has pardoned more than 22,000 people arrested in anti-government protests that have swept the country in recent months.
The head of Iran’s judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi, said on Monday that a total of 82,656 prisoners, including protesters, had been pardoned.
Demonstrations have swept across the country since September who died while in the custody of the country’s vice police.

There was no immediate independent confirmation of the mass release of prisoners.

A man with a white beard in a white turban

Head of the Iranian judiciary Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi. Source: Getty / Atta Kenare/AFP

Alem Saleh, professor of Iranian studies at the Australian National University, says he is suspicious of statistics.

“Many people have been arrested, prosecuted or even executed without any official confirmation or official recognition,” he told SBS News.
“We don’t have accurate data and information. This lack of transparency and accountability is undermining the entire judicial process in Iran.”
The statement by the head of Iran’s judiciary provides insight into the government’s efforts to quell the demonstrations.

“This actually shows that the largest scale of the protests shows that the regime is fighting the uprising with force rather than recognizing these peaceful protests across the country,” Saleh said.

Mr. Saleh said he believes the number could be much higher and should not be mistaken for a de-escalation of tensions in the region.
“Many of these people should not have been arrested or jailed at all.
“Therefore, releasing them today is not a sign of the mercy of the regime.”
Widespread anger over Ms Amini’s death has further intensified as the country copes with the collapse of the national currency and uncertainty about its ties with the rest of the world after with world powers.
Mr. Saleh says he believes Iran was forced to release the protesters because keeping so many people in prison “would cost the regime dearly.”
“These people have families and relatives. Their imprisonment is reflected in international media broadcasts abroad, which will put more and more pressure on the regime.”
While demonstrations have slowed somewhat in recent months, Mr. Saleh says the country’s anger will not subside so easily.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that people are happy. This does not mean that people no longer have demands. In fact, they do, even more, because they paid the price for their demands.”

“The regime must first recognize the legitimate demands of the people. Secondly, it is necessary to solve them as soon as possible.”