Siavosh Ghazi, AFP
Last updated: 30 August, 2011

Iranian reformists hail political prisoner release

The release of 100 political prisoners by Iran’s regime has been welcomed by reformists, who are debating a return to politics in the 2012 parliamentary election after being marginalised for the past two years.

“This is a positive gesture which meets reformist demands. If this process continues and prominent reformists are also freed, the political climate will ease,” said reformist former interior minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari.

Mohammad Reza Tabesh, who heads the parliamentary group of reformist lawmakers and is close to former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, also hailed the prisoner release.

“This decision could pave the way for unity that will help steer the country out of the serious problems it faces,” Tabesh said.

On Saturday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pardoned 100 prisoners convicted of “crimes related to security,” mostly in connection with months of anti-regime protests after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009.

Many reformist figures, as well as journalists, lawyers and student activists, were rounded up in the aftermath of the election, with some being handed down lengthy jail terms.

Dozens of people were also killed in the government crackdown on post-election unrest.

Two former presidents, Khatami and the moderate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, have ever since repeatedly called for the release of political prisoners.

They also advocate the restoration of freedom of speech and guarantees for the upcoming elections that normal political life will be able to resume.

Some calls seem finally to have been answered, with several banned reformist dailies being allowed to resume publication. These newspapers have unanimously welcomed the release of political prisoners.

The pardon “creates a wave of hope” about a possible early release of all political prisoners, said the daily Etemad.

None of the main reformist figures were among those released in recent days, however.

The camp’s leaders and former presidential election candidates, ex-prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and ex-parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi, are still under house arrest.

Both Mousavi and Karroubi are regularly described by the regime as the “leaders of the sedition” which sought to overthrow the Islamic regime in the aftermath of the 2009 election.

But following infighting that rocked the conservative camp in the spring, those in power now seem prepared to allow more players to enter the political arena.

Six months before the March 2012 poll, the reformists are increasingly being urged to participate in the vote, after concerns by their conservative opponents that some moderate voters might otherwise shun the election.

“Reformists who believe in the constitution and the rule of the Islamic republic can and should take part in elections. We even ask them to participate,” said Mohammad Reza Bahonar, deputy speaker of the conservative-dominated parliament.

The prisoner release has seen a revival among reformists of the debate on whether to take part in next year’s election — an issue over which they have so far been very divided.

“We cannot currently assess the effect of the prisoner release on the election. But this release is in line with the creation of a more moderate political climate in Iran,” the reformist daily Arman noted on Monday.

Reformist lawmaker Mostafa Kavakebian, who favours his camp’s participation in the election, said he hoped the measure would “create a climate for a high voter turnout.”