Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali KhameneiAFP photo

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, agreed on Monday to pardon or reduce the sentences of 920 people, Reuters reported, citing the official Iranian IRNA news agency.

The move is a customary gesture to mark the anniversary of the Islamic Republic.

It was the second large-scale pardon this year, and it comes after Khamenei pardoned or eased the sentences of 878 people in honor of the Prophet Mohammed's birthday in January.

IRNA did not say whether those pardoned on Monday included any of the nearly 900 people the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights says are currently in jail for political offences.

Since his election victory last summer, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has promised to increase political freedoms and some 80 political prisoners were freed in September.

Despite the claims, however, Iran continues to detain journalists, detain activists from the opposition on charges such as providing material to “anti-government websites”, and regularly execute people who are convicted of murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking, adultery and espionage.

A report by Amnesty International at the beginning of 2014 revealed that there has been a surge in executions in Iran. Another report released by the organization last week said that Iran was a leader in executions in 2013.

"For all we know there may be no political prisoners among them (released on Monday) or there may be. There is simply not enough information available yet," Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the New York- based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said in an e-mail to Reuters.

Iran currently holds 895 political prisoners, according to a report by the UN special rapporteur for human rights, Ahmad Shaheed.

Iran has refused to let Shaheed enter Iran, saying its human rights record is good and accusing the West of using the issue as a pretext to add pressure to a country already under economic sanctions for its nuclear activities.

In fact, an Iranian lawmaker claimed on Saturday that Shaheed was nothing but “a spy for the Mossad.”

The lawmaker, Seyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, told reporters that Shaheed has made baseless allegations against Tehran, citing these “baseless allegations” as proof he was working for the CIA and the Israeli spy agency.

Last December, the United Nations General Assembly condemned human rights violations in Iran, though it welcomed Rouhani’s pledged to improve in this area.

Iran rejected the resolution, claiming it was "full of untrustworthy items" and presents no evidence except reports by western sources and "terrorist groups."