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June 3, 2010

Leader Pardons 81 Political Prisoners, Hundreds More Remain Incarcerated

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pardoned 81 of some 530 political prisoners jailed in the wake of the 2009 presidential election. The fate of the other 450 who remain incarcerated is unknown and new arrests continue to be made.
The government has not released the names of those pardoned or confirmed their wrongful prosecution. According to ILNA news agency, the Leader noted in a letter to Sadegh Larijani, head of the judiciary, that the pardons were made on the Prophet Mohammad’s daughter’s birthday.
Speculation still surrounds today’s pardons with the Associated Press writing that “the pardons were seen as a gesture of good will by Iran’s leaders just days before the anniversary of the June 12 election.” However, some remain skeptical finding it hard to believe that Khamenei would have been motivated by a sudden change of heart to express good will towards a group of people he has spent the last year repressing. A far more likely explanation would be that the pardons are part of an effort to shift domestic and international attention away from the regime’s many human rights violations in the days nearing the anniversary of the 2009 election.
Aaron Rhodes, spokesperson for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, has come to this conclusion. He notes that the Leader’s pardons speak to the innocence of those imprisoned. It would then follow that those imprisoned under similar circumstances, i.e. the other 450 political prisoners, should be pardoned as well. If the Leader does not extend the pardon to those individuals, then today’s pardons are essentially meaningless and arbitrary.
Further undermining the legitimacy of the pardons are reports made to the Campaign of prisoners being forced to ask for pardons. One example is director and film maker Mohammad Nourizad who was ruthlessly beaten when he refused to seek a pardon for a crime he had not committed.
Moreover, pardoned sentences do not even ensure the detainees freedom. In the past, interrogators have kept close watch on former political prisoners and threatened them in order to keep them in the country and out of the public eye. Long after their release, these former detainees find themselves still in a cell, a larger and more comfortable one certainly, but a cell nonetheless.

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