Analysis: Khamenei’s “Pardon” Is a Public Relations Stunt That Cedes No Ground to the Protesters
Previous Pardons Have Not Been Followed by Actual Prisoner Releases
Detained Protesters Assumed Guilty, Must “Apologize” First
February 8, 2023 – The announced pardons and sentence reductions for tens of thousands of people charged or prosecuted for taking part in the protests that have swept Iran over the last four months, issued at the behest of the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on February 4, 2023, are a political ploy aimed at covering up vast and blatant violations of human rights since the protests began in September 2022.
“Khamenei wants brownie points for saying he’s going to release prisoners who were unlawfully arrested to begin with,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“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,” Ghaemi said.
“This so-called ‘pardon’ is nothing but a shameless public relations stunt that shows the completely arbitrary nature of justice in the Islamic Republic, where arrests and releases are at the whim of the state,” Ghaemi added.
Overcrowded Prisons May Be Behind Pardon, But Many Still Doubt Large Prisoner Releases
Activists have pointed out that previous pardons were not followed by the promised releases. Previously imprisoned civil rights activist Atena Daemi tweeted on February 5th: “Every time I hear propaganda about pardons issued by the leader of the Islamic Republic, I’m reminded about the uprising in Gharchak Prison in 2019 when it was announced that 2,000 prisoners were eligible for pardon but not one was released from this largest jail for women in the Middle East…”
In March 2021, the judiciary announced that nearly 10,000 prisoners were to be freed under a general amnesty ordered by Khamenei, including about 5,000 who were charged with national security crimes, but many still remain in prison.
Many observers have noted that Iran’s prisons, which were already severely overcrowded prior to the mass arrests that have accompanied the current protests, are now overflowing to the extent that a human rights crisis in these prisons has turned into a security risk.
Although all numbers are estimates—and most likely under-reports—at least 20,000 people are estimated to have been arrested since the nationwide protests broke out after the September 16, 2022 death in state custody of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini, who died three days after her arrest by the Islamic Republic’s morality police for an allegedly improper hijab.
Replying to Khamenei in a letter titled “A royal pardon, or the judiciary’s desperation,” former political prisoner Leila Hosseinzadeh tweeted on February 7, “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.”
“Guilt” of Protesters Who Have Not Been Convicted on Any Charges Assumed
While pardons are often issued each year to mark the anniversary of the Islamic Republic and the Persian new year, this time the order includes prisoners that have only been charged with crimes, but not convicted in a court of law, as well as those convicted.
By law, the supreme leader can only pardon those who have been convicted. According to Article 110 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, one of Khamenei’s powers is “Pardoning or reducing the sentences of convicts, within the framework of Islamic criteria, on a recommendation [to that effect] from the Head of the Judicial Branch.”
Extending the pardon to detainees presumes they were guilty of crimes for which they were never convicted. It is a political ploy to give the impression that the supreme leader is being merciful toward those who allegedly committed crimes.
The thousands of people arrested during the protests were acting within their rights under Article 27 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of peaceful public assembly. They should be released without charge and declared innocent, not pardoned.
“At a time when the grieving people of Iran are demanding the prosecution of the supreme leader as the person responsible for the crimes committed by the Islamic Republic, pardoning innocent and defenseless prisoners has no other purpose than forcing the regime’s false narrative,” tweeted human rights lawyer Saeid Dehghan on February 5, 2023.
Only Those Who Apologize Are Pardoned
In addition, the judicial authorities have explicitly stated that pardons would only be extended to those who apologize.
“People who have been arrested or are under investigation, may say they are not sorry or refuse to give a written pledge. Naturally, they are not subject to the amnesty,” said the deputy head of the judiciary, Sadegh Rahimi, on February 5, 2023.
“Amnesty is given after perpetrators express disgust with their past actions and pledge not to repeat them in the future otherwise future offenses will be punished more severely,” he added.
A pardon would be more meaningful in the form of a general amnesty, which would carry no presumption of guilt and would be offered without conditions or exceptions. Such an amnesty, however, would require Parliament’s approval. Khamenei chose instead to issue the more selective pardon, which presumes guilt and carries the precondition of expressed remorse.
The insistence on repentance is eerily reminiscent of similar measures taken during summary, inquisition-style “trials” in 1988, which resulted in the execution of thousands of political prisoners who were already in prison serving their sentences and refused to express regret for past actions or their views.
Moreover, many protesters will not be eligible for release because they have been accused of high crimes, such as “corruption on earth, “waging war,” “rebellion,” “spying for foreigners,” “murder,” “destruction and arson against state, military and public buildings” and “membership in organizations fighting against the state.” Foreign nationals and those with previous criminal records, or those facing private complaints, will also not qualify.
Read this article in Persian