Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani says there are no political prisoners in Iran.
Amoli Larijani made the claim on Monday February 4 during a meeting with Judiciary officials in Tehran, where he made the announcement about pardoning 50,000 prisoners on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
Amoli Larijani criticized calls for pardoning political prisoners, claiming "We currently do not have such prisoners."
Iranians on social media have explained that the Judiciary's jargon for "political prisoners" is "security prisoners." One activist tweeted that whenever she has to report to the court, officers cross out the word "political" on her papers and replace it with the word "security."
Several other activists on social media have also noted the difference between official jargon and the daunting reality it conceals.
The Judiciary chief said at the meeting on Monday that "acting against security is different from political offenses defined in the law," adding that these are two different offenses ,and different legal procedures apply to those who are accused of such offenses.
International human rights watchdogs have observed that most political activists in Iran are charged with "acting against security," possibly because the government does not want to be criticized for having "political prisoners."
Based on the Atlas of Iranian Prisons, there are currently about one thousand political prisoners in Iran. These include political prisoners affiliated with various political groups, as well as journalists, hundreds of members of religious minorities including Bahais, dervishes and those who have converted into Christianity.
Lists of thousands of political prisoners in Iran have been published on various occasions during and before Amoli Larijani's stint as Judiciary Chief.
Meanwhile, the Iranian Judiciary has been refusing to carry out the Political Offence Law that was ratified by the Iranian Parliament two years ago. Because of the Judiciary's refusal to accept detainees as political prisoners, they are usually tried at revolutionary courts, where rules and regulations are even stricter and sanctions are harsher than the courts of justice.
Other officials of the Islamic Republic have also denied the existence of political prisoners in Iran time and again. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters during one of his visits to the United States that "No one is imprisoned in Iran for his or her beliefs."
This comes while Iranian courts have at times even summoned members of the parliament regardless of their immunity, for making critical comments.
Nevertheless, Amoli Larijani has claimed that "No one has been ever prosecuted in Iran for making criticism." However, he added that "Libel and insult are different from criticism."
Responding to calls for pardoning political prisoners, Amoli Larijani said: "Unfortunately, some people make bitter irrelevant comments and politicize a humanitarian act involving pardoning of nearly 50 thousand prisoners."
However, some lawmakers, including Majles Presidium Spokesman Behrouz Nemati have said that the pardon might be also applicable to political prisoners.
Reformist activists have also called for pardoning political prisoners, but Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi has said that the pardon does not cover "security prisoners."
In June 2018 MPs tabled a motion demanding declaration of a general amnesty, but the motion has not been officially discussed yet.
During the past two years, officials have said that there are some 200,000 inmates in Iranian prisons.