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Iran pardons or cuts sentences of hundreds of prisoners

At least 1,800 released or had sentences reduced on the eve of a key Shia religious festival, including some who were arrested protesting in 2019
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei giving a live televised speech before the nation, 21 March 2021 (AFP)

More than 1,800 prisoners in Iran have had their sentences cut or reduced by the supreme leader as the country marks a religious holiday.

The judiciary's Mizan Online website said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had "agreed to grant a pardon or reduce the sentences of 1,849 convicts" on the eve of a festival celebrating the birth of the Mahdi, a key date for Shia Muslims.

Among those ordered released were prisoners convicted following protests held in November 2019, when a surprise hike in fuel prices sparked a wave of demonstrations across Iran.

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Mizan added that "100 [of the prisoners] convicted for reasons related to state security are also on this pardon list, which includes a number of people convicted in connection with the events of November 2019".

Amnesty International said at least 304 people died in the 2019 unrest while some authorities announced 230 deaths during what they said were "riots".

The United Nations said there were "mass arrests" following the events of 2019, but no details have been released about how many were detained then, and how many are still held.

Iran offers pardons to prisoners several times a year to mark religious or national holidays.

The birthday of the Mahdi on the 15th day of Sixth Islamic Month of Sha’ban commemorates the "hidden Imam" whose return it is believed will herald a new golden age of justice.