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Iranian Government Releases Prisoners for Persian New Year

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Iran has released a top politician, a film maker and a journalist, among others, to mark the Persian New Year. Al-Arabiya TV is also reporting that an opposition activist who took part in opposition demonstrations has been sentenced to death.

The Iranian government is making a gesture to its opposition adversaries by releasing several prominent detainees to mark the Persian New Year, Nowrouz. Three of them were released on bail.

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One of the prominent figures from the televised trials of opposition leaders last summer, Mohsen Mirdamadi, was temporarily released in exchange for nearly half a million dollars in bail. Mirdomadi leads the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the country's top reformist party.

Film-maker Mohammad Rasoulof was also granted a temporary release on bail, according to opposition Web sites Kalameh and Rahesabz. Director Jafar Panahi, in whose company he was arrested, remains in custody.

Opposition journalist Akbar Montajabi was also reportedly released. But Irandokht, the newspaper for which he worked, was closed by the government earlier this month.

Paris-based press watchdog Reporters Without Borders indicated on its Web site that three other journalists and bloggers arrested since the beginning of the year, were also released earlier this week.

Writer Scott Lucas of the University of Birmingham in Britain, who runs the popular Iran blog Enduring America, says that the Iranian government continues to use a "carrot-and-stick" approach towards the opposition Green Movement, noting that Mohsen Mirdomadi was released at almost the same time that his party was banned:

"Mirdomadi's release happens at almost the same time they slap a ban on the Islamic Iran Participation Front, so you get almost a carrot-and-stick here, which is: all right, we will let Mirdomadi out temporarily, at the same time this organization that he heads up is put beyond the pale,” said Lucas. “So, if they behave themselves, then a temporary release might be coming, or they might have to have to have set up personal bail conditions."

Lucas says he does not think the Iranian government strategy is going to work in the long term:

"The regime is basically trying to break this movement, but they are trying to break it at the same time not just simply by complete oppression, but by giving just a little bit, in exchange for silence and concessions,” Lucas adds. “This is a long-term game, and the government could not land a knock-out blow on these folks. Now, they many be trying to win a battle of attrition, but I do not see them doing it."

Ten opposition demonstrators, who were accused of being enemies of God, were recently given death sentences for participating in anti-government demonstrations in December. Al-Arabiya TV reports another young demonstrator was sentenced to death Wednesday.

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