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Iran pardons some activists in 2009 election protests

Their release from prison is viewed as a conciliatory gesture before next year's elections, but opposition activists remain wary.

August 28, 2011|By Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times
  • Iran's pardon of activists involved in protests of the 2009 presidential election did not include former candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, shown here at a 2009 rally. He remains under house arrest.
Iran's pardon of activists involved in protests of the 2009 presidential… (AFP/Getty Images )

Reporting from Tehran — Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has pardoned an unspecified number of political activists imprisoned for their part in tumultuous protests over the country's disputed 2009 presidential election, in what was seen as a conciliatory gesture ahead of next year's national elections.

The pardons did not cover top leaders of the 2009 demonstrations, including former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who remain under house arrest.

State news agencies announced the pardons of 100 "security" prisoners late Saturday night. About 70 of those granted clemency are believed to have been jailed for their role in massive street protests over the 2009 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranian rights groups say at least 100 people were killed when the government crushed the large-scale protests.

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi said the majority of those pardoned were being freed immediately. "All of these security prisoners have been repentant for what they have committed and have asked for pardon from the supreme leader," he said.

The pardons were timed to coincide with the conclusion of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, traditionally a time of clemency for prisoners. Analysts said they saw the pardons as a gesture ahead of March parliamentary elections, which will be the first national vote since 2009.

The pardons are unlikely to persuade many reformist opposition members to take part in the elections, according to an opposition activist who spent several months in jail after the 2009 protests.

Because those freed are said to have asked the government's forgiveness, "they are castrated politically once they are out of jail," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. "So long as all political prisoners are not freed without conditions, we cannot justify the participation of reformists in elections."

The clemency apparently did not extend to two U.S. men, Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, sentenced by Iran this month to eight years in prison on convictions of espionage and illegal entry. The men say they accidentally strayed across the border into Iran while hiking in northern Iraq.

The Americans' lawyer, Masoud Shafii, said Sunday that he had filed a judicial appeal for the two. "I can be hopeful that their release will be possible," he said.

Mostaghim is a special correspondent.

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