On February 4, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei issued a “great amnesty” and agreed with a request by the head of the judiciary to pardon "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including some arrested in nationwide protests sparked by the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police.
At the time, this amnesty was described by human rights activists as a public relation “stunt” and an attempt to “whitewash” thousands of illegal arrests.
Since then, journalists who were released under the “great amnesty” have been summoned to serve sentences they had received before the announcement of the amnesty or to stand trial in connection with the nationwide protests
“Naively, we believed that on the eve of the Judiciary Week we could hope that justice would be done for those who were pardoned, but their pardon was not carried out,” Ali Mojtahedzadeh, a lawyer representing journalists and political activists, recently tweeted. “But events such as the summoning of Ruhollah Nakhaei to serve his sentence and the new case against Zahra Tohidi shows that we are dealing with something completely different.”
Of course, the judiciary’s offensive against journalists is not limited to Nakhaei and Tohidi. In May, Nasim Soltan Beigi was summoned to Branch 4 of Evin Courthouse in tehran. It was also reported on June 20 that Saeedeh Shafiei, a journalist arrested during the widespread protests, had been summoned to Branch 26 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court.
Earlier, on June 19, journalist Mehrnoosh Zarei Hanzaki was summoned to Branch 26 of Tehran Revolutionary Court to stand trial on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “illegal gathering and collusion.” She had been arrested on January 22, before the “great amnesty,” and despite the fact that the judiciary has not stopped summoning and charging journalists, it was hoped that judiciary and security officials would at least show some consideration for Khamenei’s pardon.
No Amnesty for Journalists
By analyzing the “great amnesty” from different angles since it was announced in February, various jurists have concluded that it was more a political stunt than an actual roadmap for the judiciary.
Nakhaei’s case illustrates this point well. He was arrested on September 22, six days after Amini’s death, was sent to Great Tehran Penitentiary and was released on bail after spending 117 days behind bars. Thirty-two days after his release, his lawyer Khalil Saeedi tweeted: “Although Mr. Ruhollah Nakhaei has been charged with illegal gathering and collusion and propaganda against the regime, there can be no doubt that he qualifies for the amnesty. However, it was announced today that his trial would be held tomorrow.”
Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Nakhaei to two years and seven months prison on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “illegal gathering and collusion.” The sentence was upheld by the appeals court.
A Political Ruse
Earlier this year, when many detainees who should have been released under Khamenei’s amnesty remained in jail, many political analysts called the amnesty a ruse aimed at reducing the intensity of the months-long protest movement.
Other analysts described the amnesty as an attempt to reduce the number of prisoners and the financial pressure on the government.
Whatever the intent behind the amnesty, jurists emphasized one point: the “great amnesty” contravened the judicial process. Under the constitution of the Islamic Republic, the supreme leader has the authority to issue pardons at the recommendation of the judiciary, but only defendants who have received a final verdict can be pardoned, not those accused of committing a crime.
Some believe that the amnesty was meant to reduce the pressure of foreign media on the Islamic Republic over the arrests of tens of thousands of protesters and the killing of hundreds of them.
Lawyer and human rights activist Ghasem Boedi tells IranWire that the “great amnesty” should have resulted in the release of those convicted, “but the Islamic Republic launched a propaganda campaign, without talking about the details, to pretend that it would apply to all detainees who were arrested during to protest.”
Boedi is himself a victim of judicial misconduct. He was arrested on October 17 and convicted twice: the Revolutionary Court sentenced him to five months in prison and banned him from leaving the country for two years on the charge of “propaganda against the regime,” while the criminal court sentenced him to three months and one day prison and a fine of 8 million tomans. He has now been summoned to start serving his sentence.
“The Supreme Leader’s great amnesty came after a fact-finding mission was launched [by the UN Human Rights Council] to investigate human rights violations by the Islamic Republic, and the government wanted to find a way to ease the pressure by the international community,” Boedi says. “As a result of declaring this amnesty, they confessed that they arrested between 8o to 90 thousand people, and the judiciary chief himself announced that 90,000 would qualify for the amnesty.”
Playing with Law to Frighten Journalists
Lawyer and jurist Marzieh Mohebbi explains to IranWire why the “great amnesty” was a political show more than anything else: “Unlike a general amnesty that is approved by parliament, individual pardons or the Supreme Leader’s amnesty are granted to convicts individually and without any connection to other cases. The supreme leader’s amnesty applies to those who have been convicted and their convictions have been upheld on appeal. Therefore, those who have not been convicted do not qualify for this amnesty.”
In February, in order to ease the tense situation in Iran, especially on the eve of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the government created the “Supreme Leader’s Great Amnesty.”
Mohebbi says that based on Paragraph 11 of Article 110 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution and Article 96 of the Islamic Penal Code, pardons are within the authority of the supreme leader following recommendations by the judiciary’s head.
She emphasizes that a “pardon” means that the punishment is stopped and the conviction is removed from the individual’s criminal record. According to bylaws of the commission tasked with processing requests for pardon and reduction of punishment, executions are put on hold until the process is complete.
“Guidelines that have been issued for carrying out the ‘great amnesty’ make it conditional upon the repentance of the defendant or the convict about last year’s protests,” says Boedi. “In other words, if the judiciary and the security establishment are not convinced that the protester is really sorry and repentant, then the case against him remains open. Therefore, we can characterize as propaganda most of what the government has done to carry out the ‘great amnesty,’ and, in a sense, it has been an effort to buy sympathy for itself.”
“The summons that have been issued to media activists are not limited to a few journalists, and all those detained last year are in the same boat because the situation is relatively calm compared to last year, and the judiciary has once again resorted to summons and is carrying out sentences in order to control the situation.”
What the officials of the Islamic Republic had trumpeted as the “Supreme Leader’s great amnesty” has lost its luster in recent weeks and it has become increasingly clear that it was not much more than a political stunt.