It was the first time that the Iranian authorities have admitted to holding tens of thousands of political prisoners. Some 500 persons were shot dead by government security forces in the course of last fall’s demonstrations, and most of those detained were simply protesting peacefully, which should not have been the basis for an arrest in the first place.
Indeed, in some ways the announcement is a humiliation for the government, which came to power on the backs of revolutionaries against the autocracy of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. One of the charges against the shah was that he held prisoners of conscience in his jails. In 1977, after the shah had begun his own amnesty program and released many political prisoners, there were still 3,000 prisoners of conscience in his jails, according to the International Red Cross. Even at the height of his repression, he did not hold “tens of thousands” of prisoners of conscience….