At the request of the head of Islamic Republic’s judiciary, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on February 4 agreed to pardon "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including some arrested in recent anti-government protests. The amnesty, which coincided with the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, was described by human rights activists as a public relation “stunt.”
In an earlier article, IranWire explained why granting “amnesty” to detainees who have not been tried or have not received a final verdict is unlawful and is simply an attempt to whitewash the thousands of illegal arrests made during protests.
We will now look at who qualifies for the mass pardon and what it means.
A Key Condition: Repentance
Neither the letter by Judiciary Chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei nor Khamenei’s announcement mention that, in order to qualify for the “great amnesty,” the prisoners must “repent” and pledge in writing that they regret what they have done. However, according to reports coming out of prisons, detainees have been told that they must sign letters of repentance that include sentences such as, “I committed crimes under the influence of foreign media”, “I repent of my past behavior,” “I shall not participate in riots in the future,” “I shall remain faithful to the Islamic Republic” and “Henceforth, I shall follow the Exalted Supreme Leader.”
According to detainees, the pledges they must sign warn that if they are arrested again, they would be sentenced to “maximum punishment.” Others say they have been told that if they commit a similar offence in the next two years, they would be sentenced for both offences. In other words, they have not been really pardoned, but their sentences have been suspended.
Also, offices of some prosecutors have summoned defendants released on bail to court to sign pledges and a “letter of pardon,” even though many of them had not requested a pardon.
It must be noted that these conditions only apply to defendants and convicts whose alleged offences are not considered serious. Excluded are those who have been charged with crimes such as “spying for foreign countries,” having “connections with the agents of foreign intelligence services,” murder and sabotage of government, military and public installations. Also excluded are defendants and convicts in cases where the plaintiff is a private party.
According to information received by IranWire, some well-known political prisoners have been released without prior notice, without having asked for pardon and without having to comply with the conditions listed above.
One of them is civil rights activist Farhad Meysami, who was released while he was on a hunger strike. “Farhad Meysami was released from Rajaei Shahr Prison without prior notice while more than four months of his five-year prison sentence remained,” tweeted political activist Zia Nabavi. “Last week they asked him to post bail, but he rejected the offer.”
The “God of 1980” is Back
In a speech marking Judiciary Day two months before the eruption of the ongoing nationwide protests and the accompanying crackdown on dissent, Khamenei announced that “the God of today is the same as the God of 1980,” implicitly threatening a return to the bloody aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. At the time, few people could imagine that the “God of 1980” would return in full force with mass abductions by security forces, massacres in the streets, the blinding of protesters by shotgun pellets, forced confessions and, of course, letters of repentance.
Extorting repentance has been a practice that the Islamic Republic has used since 1980 to crush prisoners. Renouncing their beliefs, signing pledges and consenting to TV interviews were among the conditions for gaining freedom or avoiding execution. For more than four decades, the Islamic Republic has extracted and broadcasted confessions obtained under duress and forced prisoners to sign letters of repentance. The public is no longer fooled by forced confessions broadcast on state TV, but the Islamic Republic refuses to renounce this practice.
According to information received by IranWire, prisoners at the Greater Tehran Penitentiary were forced to humiliate themselves by repenting to qualify for pardon, and they were compelled to gather together at the prison yard and chant slogans in support of the supreme leader. After Khamenei announced his “great amnesty,” the judiciary’s news agency Mizan published pictures of prisoners rejoicing, but there are rumors that torture has been used to force those detained during the protests to chant slogans praising the supreme leader.
The protesters taking to the streets across Iran are shouting slogans directly aimed at Khamenei. It seems that the authorities are now trying to restore the “halo” around Khamenei’s head by exploiting the “great amnesty” for propaganda purposes.