The head of Iran’s judiciary on Sunday granted Christian prisoners 10 days’ liberty to spend the holidays with families, in a rare move toward the minority community.
Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei instructed authorities across the country to issue the dispensation, according to the judiciary’s Mizan Online website.
“The decision is to mark the New Year 2022 and the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ,” the website said.
Mizan Online did not say how many Christian prisoners will benefit from the furlough, or when the 10-day period starts.
It said, however, that inmates convicted for undermining security, organized crime, abductions, armed robberies and those sentenced to death would be exempted.
According to local media, Christians represent just 1% of Iran’s total population of 83 million, the majority of whom are Shiite Muslims.
Most Christians in Iran are Armenians, who celebrate Christmas on January 6, the day of the Epiphany.
Around that time of year, some shops in Tehran and major cities put up decorations, including Christmas trees, while people dressed up as Santa Claus stand outside stores.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, often grants amnesty to prisoners or reduces their sentences to mark Muslim holidays.
But it is rare for Iranian authorities to announce such measures concerning members of the Islamic republic’s Christian minority.
This year Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visited the Tehran home of the family of a Christian Armenian “martyr” who died in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war on Christmas Eve, the official IRNA news agency reported.