Iranians in Winnipeg doubt thousands of protesters have been pardoned

Saeideh Mirzaei, a graduate student at the University of Manitoba, said she responded with

Saeideh Mirzaei, a graduate student at the University of Manitoba, said she responded with “bitter laughter” to reports that Iran had pardoned thousands of people arrested during anti-government protests. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC – photo credit)

Iranians in Winnipeg say they do not believe a claim by Iran’s justice chief that thousands of people arrested in anti-government protests have been pardoned.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, Iran’s Chief Justice, said Monday that more than 22,000 people have been pardoned after being arrested in protests that gripped Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini in September, according to an Associated Press report.

The 22-year-old woman died in custody after being arrested by the country’s vice squad on charges of improperly wearing her headscarf.

There was no immediate independent confirmation of the mass pardon, and some Winnipeggers with ties to Iran are skeptical.

Saeideh Mirzaei, a University of Manitoba doctoral student from Iran, said she reacted with “bitter laughter” after hearing the announcement. The government has announced pardons before, but prisoners are often re-arrested later, she said.

“They’re not a long-lasting pardon or kindness … Some of them are just out for a few days and they [are arrested] once again.”

Iran’s state-run news agency quoted Ejei as announcing the releases on Monday, after a previous suggestion that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could pardon thousands ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins later next week.

The chief justice said a total of 82,656 prisoners and accused had been pardoned, including 22,628 arrested during the demonstrations. The pardoned protesters did not commit any thefts or violent crimes, he said, which may indicate the total number of those arrested is even larger.

In February, Iran admitted that “tens of thousands” had been arrested during the protests.

“Of course, these are not real pardons,” said Mirzaei of Winnipeg. “The real pardon is to release all prisoners.”

“There is no amnesty”

Manitoba’s Iranian Community President Arian Arianpour called the announcement “outrageous”. He said he also knew a number of people who had been pardoned by the government and then arrested again in the past.

“If you have been pardoned, you cannot be subpoenaed for the exact same charges. But so many people did it,” he said.

Arianpour said he believes Iran is trying to give the impression of a more peaceful government through the pardons in order to quell the country’s ongoing protests.

“The regime wants to brag about this so-called amnesty, but there is no amnesty,” he said.

Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC

Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC

Although demonstrations in Iran over Amini’s death have slowed in recent months, Arianpour said civil disobedience in the country is at an all-time high.

“In cities across the country, you see people not wearing hijab,” he said.

Mirzaei also said that although demonstrations have dwindled, people in the country are still angry, with many protesting in ways that don’t necessarily mean taking to the streets.

“People need to refresh themselves and regain their energy to fight,” Mirzaei said.

“I just put myself in the shoes of people who are in Iran,” she said. At risk of being killed or jailed for protesting “how many days are you going to go out?”

Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC

Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC

Mirzaei said she wants to return to Iran after completing her studies. The thought of returning is always on her mind.

“If I really expect people to keep fighting, then I have to be a part of that fight, too,” she said.

“If I don’t dare [to go] back, I shouldn’t expect people to be on the streets… I hope I can go back and serve my community.


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