Iran’s supreme leader reportedly ordered on Sunday an amnesty or reduced prison sentences for «tens of thousands» of people detained amid nationwide anti-government protests that have rocked the country, acknowledging for the first time the scale. of repression.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s decree, part of an annual pardon the supreme leader makes ahead of the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, comes as authorities have yet to say how many people they detained at the demonstrations. State media also offered a list of caveats about the order meaning those with ties abroad or facing internationally criticized espionage charges would not be eligible.

State media reports on the decree offered no explanation for the decision by Khamenei, who has the final say on all state affairs in Iran. However, prisons and detention centers had already faced overcrowding in the country after years of protests over economic and other issues.

The authorities also did not name any of those who had been pardoned or seen shorter sentences. Instead, state television, for example, referred to the demonstrations as a «foreign-backed riot,» rather than local anger over the September death of Masha Amini, an Iranian Kurdish woman detained by the country’s morality police. . Anger has also spread through the collapse of the iranian rial against the US dollar, as well as Tehran arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones in its war against Ukraine.

More than 19,600 people have been arrested during the protests, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been monitoring the crackdown. At least 527 people have been killed when authorities violently cracked down on protests, the group said. Iran has not offered a death toll for months. It has already executed at least four people detained amid protests following internationally criticized trials.

All of this comes as the Iran nuclear deal has collapsed and Tehran has enough highly enriched uranium to potentially build «several» atomic bombs if it so chooses, the United Nations’ top nuclear envoy has said. A shadow war between Iran and Israel arose out of the chaos, with Tehran also blaming Israel for a drone strike on a military workshop in Isfahan last week.

Meanwhile, a long-detained opposition leader in Iran is calling for a national referendum on the drafting of a new constitution for the Islamic Republic.

Mir Hossein Mousavi’s call, published on Saturday night by the opposition Kaleme website, included him saying he did not believe Iran’s current system of giving the last word to a supreme leader would work any longer. He also called for the formation of a constitutional assembly of «royal representatives» to draft a new constitution.

It remains unlikely that Iran’s theocracy will heed the 80-year-old’s call. He and his wife have been under house arrest for years after their disputed defeat in the 2009 presidential election led to widespread Green Movement protests that security forces also put down. However, he himself supported and served in Iran’s theocracy for decades.

In 2019, Mousavi compared Khamenei to former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose government saw troops gun down protesters at an event that led to the Islamic Revolution.