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Thousands of Iranian prisoners to be pardoned for revolution anniversary

Around 50,000 prisoners expected to receive 'Islamic clemency' in honour of 40th anniversary of revolution that toppled Shah
Iran is holding anniversary celebrations that will culminate next Monday in a nationwide rally (AFP)

A large number of prisoners in Iran are to be pardoned in honour of the 40th anniversary of the revolution that toppled the US-backed Shah, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said on his Twitter account.

The number of prisoners who will be pardoned on Thursday by Khamenei was not announced, but Iranian media earlier said around 50,000 prisoners will enjoy "the Islamic clemency".

The country is holding official celebrations for the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that will culminate next Monday in a nationwide rally, Reuters news agency reported.

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It was not immediately clear whether those who will be pardoned will include some of the hundreds of prisoners who human rights groups say have been jailed for political offences.

Several dual nationals from the United States, Britain, Austria, Canada and France have been detained by Iran's security forces in past years and have been kept behind bars on charges including espionage and collaborating with hostile governments.

Khamenei has the final say on all state matters and issues pardons or reduces sentences of prisoners on special occasions.

Leaked files

The announcement came just as a media watchdog revealed on Thursday that Iranian authorities had arrested 860 journalists in the 30 years following the 1979 revolution.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said confidential records for the period from 1979-2009 were leaked by whistleblowers to coincide with Tehran's 40th anniversary celebrations.

The file contains some 1.7 million records of judicial procedures, and although people's professions are not listed, RSF said researchers spent months to compile and verify the names of 860 journalists or citizen-journalists who were arrested or imprisoned.

At least four of them were executed, it said.

"The very existence of this file and its millions of entries show not only the scale of the Iranian regime's mendacity for years when claiming that its jails were holding no political prisoners or journalists, but also the relentless machinations it used for 40 years to persecute men and women for their opinions or their reporting," RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said in a statement.

He added that the findings would be submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

'Action against national security'

Prominent journalists in the file include Farj Sarkhohi, the editor of a political magazine who Tehran said disappeared en route to Germany in 1996, the AFP news agency reported.

"The regime staged a press conference at the airport at which it produced Sarkhohi and claimed he had just returned from Turkmenistan. In reality, he had just spent two months in prison," the report said.

It also said Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi died of injuries sustained as a result of being beaten at Tehran's Evin prison in 2003, after taking pictures of families waiting outside the facility.

Iran has denied her killing, with an official report on her death failing to disclose the cause of death.

The report also claims that over 6,000 people were arrested for protesting against the re-election of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, accused of "action against national security".

Other records in the leaked files include those of human rights advocates, notably Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, and who now lives in exile, after she and other women were forbidden from working as judges following the 1979 revolution.