UPDATE: Iranian political prisoner Majid Tavakoli was granted a four-day furlough and a 600 million Toman ($250,000) bail Monday. The Washington Free Beacon incorrectly reported that Tavakoli had been permanently released and apologizes for the error.
A prominent Iranian political prisoner was freed Monday after a report revealed that senior Iranian officials did not know who the activist was and sparked a public outcry, according to a human rights group.
Majid Tavakoli, a student leader and activist, was arrested in 2009 for protesting the Iranian regime and the disputed presidential elections. Tavakoli was recently released after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s Facebook wall was “flooded with calls to free Tavakoli” and his story spread in Iran, according to a post by Advancing Human Rights.
David Keyes, executive director of Advancing Human Rights, penned a piece for the Daily Beast earlier this month about his encounter with Zarif at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, where the foreign minister said he did not know who Tavakoli was. Keyes also asked Zarif about the irony of him posting on Facebook while the Iranian government prohibits its citizens from using social media.
Zarif laughed in response to the question and said “That’s life.”
Robert Bernstein, chairman of Advancing Human Rights, said that publicizing the stories of political prisoners is often the only means of improving their conditions or securing their release.
“This experience also brings to mind the efforts made to free Soviet dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s,” he said. “Even when it did not lead to their immediate release, dissidents later reported that when names became familiar to the public, their life in prison became easier. It is therefore also important to identify and publicize the many other Iranian activists still imprisoned.”
The Washington Free Beacon reported earlier this month that about 800 Iranian dissidents remain behind bars despite the release of some political prisoners hours before new Iranian President Hassan Rowhani’s speech at the U.N. meeting.
Dozens of journalists have also been detained and religious minorities like the Baha’is continue to face persecution.