Iranian media are reporting that members of parliament will be allowed access to prisoners who were detained during anti-government protests that rocked the country, beginning last December, RFERL reports. Hassan Norouzi, spokesman for the parliamentary judicial committee, on January 21 was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying, “Our application was today approved.”
The report said the visits would take place on January 28 and that only a small group of committee members would be granted access to the detainees at Evin Prison in Tehran. The visit would be the first of its kind since the protests, which began on Dec. 28 and swept across the country, initially giving voice to economic woes but later growing into a broader anti-establishment movement.
Allahyar Malekshahi, the chairman of the judicial committee, told the semi-official Ilna news agency that he expected about 10 lawmakers would be granted access as part of the group. He added that others would need to apply individually for permission. The visits would be the first of their kind since the protests began on December 28.
An Iranian reformist lawmaker, Mahmoud Sadeghi, said about 3,700 people had been arrested across the country during the weeks of protests — which were sparked by anger about Iran’s troubled economy and official corruption but escalated rapidly with some calling for the overthrow of Iran’s clerical rulers.
Iran’s parliament said on January 7 that low-level protesters, particularly students, were to be released in waves, while protest leaders would be punished.
Hamid Shahriari, deputy head of Iran’s judiciary, said in early January that anti-government protest leaders should be handed the “maximum penalty” under Iranian law for organizing what the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has repeatedly described as acts of “sedition.” The death penalty is the most severe sentence imposed by courts in Iran, where it can be applied to a range of crimes including treason, murder, and drug trafficking.
On January 14, Iran’s judiciary said about 465 people were still being detained across the country. Judiciary spokesman Gholamhosein Mohseni-Ejei at the time said 55 people were being held in the Iranian capital.
Hundreds of demonstrators have protested outside Evin Prison, demanding information about detained family members amid allegations of harsh conditions and torture. Reports of suicides in the prison have been met with skepticism, and calls have been made by reformist lawmakers and civil rights activists for an independent investigation into conditions.
The parliament’s health committee has also pushed for access to the detainees.
“Some of the detainees could need urgent medical and psychological care,” judicial committee chief Ali Nobakht Haghighi told Ilna.
The Iranian government has denied allegations of mistreatment. For over a week, the reformist faction in parliament and civil rights officials from the office of President Hassan Rouhani have sought to visit the detained protesters.
The approval on Sunday came hours after Iran’s Interior Ministry submitted a report on the driving factors behind the protests. Hard-line authorities have blamed the protests on foreign agitators, but Iranian secret service chief Mahmud Alawi on January 21 said the unrest was led by domestic government critics, not outside powers.
“The rioting and widespread demonstrations were caused by domestic groups,” Iranian secret service chief Mahmud Alawi said, dismissing claims that foreign powers had been behind the unrest.
Both he and Rowhani have blamed the unrest on ultra-conservative hardliners opposed to reforms. Relatively moderate Iranian President Hassan Rohani has also blamed the country’s religious hard-liners and critics of his reformist policies for raising the anger of citizens. Rowhani intends to comment on the report on state television on Monday evening.
“The demonstrations were driven by public opposition to the economic policy and high inflation, resulting in anger being directed at the entire regime,” Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri claimed.