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Iran Pardons 32 Journalists, Students, Political Prisoners For The First Time

This photo released by the semi-official Iranian Fars News Agency, shows a general view of the court room where dozens of opposition activists and protesters standing trial, in Tehran's Revolutionary Court, Iran, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009. File photo

A spokesman for the Iranian Judiciary says the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has pardoned 32 journalists and students who have been in jail "for security-related reasons."

Gholamhossein Esmaeili, said Khamenei pardoned the activists on Thursday November 14, a day before Prophet Mohammad's birthday based on a request made by Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi.

Pardoning criminals and law breakers on the occasion of religious festivities is a usual practice, but this is the first time a Judiciary chief in Iran calls for amnesty for journalists and students in jail.

Security prisoners is the official jargon in the Islamic Republic for political prisoners. Iranian officials find it embarrassing to acknowledge that there are political prisoners in Iran who are in jail because of their ideology or their opposition to the way the Islamic Republic runs the country.

Earlier in November, Raeesi tried to change this situation by agreeing that "security prisoners" should be tried at the special court for journalists. Based on Iranian Constitutional Law, journalists and political prisoners should defend themselves before a jury rather than a single judge.

Raeesi who is known to be a hardline conservative, has recently ordered the release of several labor activists and journalists from jail in an unexpected move. Although the prisoners' release on bail has been generally welcomed by Iranians, some critics have questioned the motivation for Raeesi's move and assessed that he has been trying to appease political activists ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Others say the move is part of Raeesi's promise to sort out problems caused by radical judges and Kangaroo courts under former Judiciary Chief Sadegh Amoli-Larijani.

Mizan news agency which is close to the Judiciary, quoted Esmaeili as having said that some of the activists have been pardoned and the sentences of some others have been commuted.

Esmaeili stressed two unusual points in the amnesty order: For the first time, security prisoners' names were included in the list for amnesty and the number of those pardoned, 3552, has been dramatically higher than usual.

The names of the journalists and students who have been pardoned have not been announced, but Esmaeili said some of them have been already in jail and some others have been pardoned before starting to serve their sentences.

International human rights watchdogs have labelled Iran as one of the five biggest prisons for journalists in the world, and the largest prison for women journalists and citizen journalists.

Iran ranked 170 among 180 countries in the international ranking of media freedom published by the Reporters Without Frontiers.