Omid Memarian

Monday, July 16, 2007

TV Confessions Raise Questions About Iranian Government’s Credibility
Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director told me in an interview....

Warnings issued over the past several weeks regarding a planned scenario by Iranian security authorities to receive forced confessions from two suspects in the Iranian-American academics case were realized with the announcement in Iranian television, promising broadcast of confessions of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari and Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh.

Fars News Agency was the first news organization to publish this news. This agency had previously printed forced confession letters in other cases. “These confessions will be aired in a special television program on IRIB Channel 1 at 21:45 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday,” reported Fars.

In an interview with Rooz, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch said that Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh have had no access to their lawyers and have not been allowed to meet their families. “Therefore we have good reason to be skeptical about statements made under pressure. Any confessions made under these circumstances are invalid.”

“Considering that authorities have held Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh for months without access to their lawyers or without visits with their families, we have good reason to suspect that their statements were provided under duress. ‘Confessions’ produced under these circumstances have no validity,” she added.

She urged the Iranian authorities to allow them immediate access to their lawyers. “If the two are going to be tried in court, the proceedings must be open and carried out in a way that grants them their rights to defend themselves against the charges that have been brought against them. So far, the two detainees have been denied these most basic rights.”

“The ‘confessions’ will further undermine whatever credibility the Iranian authorities have with regards to Human Rights and raise more questions about how detainees are treated inside Iran’s prisons,” said Whitson on an phone interview.”

Haleh Esfandiari who was in Tehran visiting her ailing 93-year old mother, had traveled to Iran on several occasions over the past years. Three months of solitary confinement for her and for Kian Tajbakhsh, whose wife is due with their child these days, will now continue with the broadcast of their confessions in prison. Tajbakhsh’s family had been threatened over the past weeks not to interview newspapers to avoid further problems for him.

Over the past few days, Iranian security authorities have reported finding new evidence in Haleh Esfandiari’s case, though prior to that Judiciary’s Spokesperson had said that investigations of the two were almost complete and the case would be resolved soon.

Confessions, A Propaganda Or A Security Apparatus?

Many analysts believe that more than a security or a justice concern, forced confession projects are usually aimed to create propaganda results. The last example of such approach was the case of Ramin Jahanbegloo, which after months of imprisonment for him, produced forced confessions. In that case first there was news of his confessions by authorities and before those confessions were broadcast, immense pressure from the media inside and outside Iran, human rights organizations worldwide, and other civil society channels in Iran and internationally demanding the Iranian justice system to observe the law in review of the case and condemning forced confessions, resulting in a cancellation of the broadcast of Jahanbegloo’s confessions. Instead, he was sent to a news agency’s offices to deliver statements he had been asked to make, even though some conservative sources had said they were aware of videotapes of his “confessions.”

This pattern was also present in the “bloggers” case in 2004, with some variations. Four suspects in the case who had been detained at Evin prison after another 17 suspects in the case had been released, under pressure from security authorities involved in the case received a similar fate; though later, Head of Judiciary personally expressed his regret about the treatment of the suspects and their forced confessions, ordering an end to the cases.

Kayhan: They Will Confess to What We Had Said

In the television teaser broadcast yesterday, advertising the upcoming confessions, Haleh Esfandiari talks of her involvement with Iranian women’s movement, international foundations, and Georgia’s Velvet Revolution. These topics comprise some of the charges made against Esfandiari.

In yesterday’s issue, announcing the imminent broadcast of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh’s confessions, Kayhan Newspaper noted: “A while back, following the arrest of the above-mentioned individuals on charges of espionage, Kayhan revealed important and extensive information about these individuals’ activities of past years, including espionage for foreign states, establishment of an informal contact network, actions to undermine national security, and relations with foreign agents.”

On July 7th, Javan Newspaper, a publication close to Revolutionary Guards also foretold of Haleh Esfandiari’s confessions. This newspaper reported that Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-American academic who has been arrested on charges of espionage, made statements regarding her relations with Iranian reformists in her confessions. “She admitted in her confessions that she had close relations to some so-called reformist women and….and conducted many meetings with them.” Javan also claimed that in another part of her confessions, Esfandiari referred to plans to disrupt and overthrow the regime, saying: “We announced this year as the year of friction in Iran.”

In a statement broadcast on the state television at the time of Haleh Esfandiari’s arrest, Iranian Ministry of Information announced: “Haleh Esfandiari and Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC and similar organizations such as Soros Foudnation have tried to create a network for activities against the regime and the country’s independence. The aim of this model, designed by Americans with an illusive appearance, is to implement a soft overthrow project.”

The statement further said: “Haleh Esfandiari has confirmed that Wilson Center invited Iranians to participate in conferences, granted them research projects and financial aid, and tried to attract influential individuals and to put them in contact with American decision-making centers.”

In reaction to these accusations, Woodrow Wilson Center, where Haleh Esfandiari works as Director of their Middle East Division, called them worrisome and unbelievable. Lee Hamilton, Director of Wilson Center said: “Haleh was never involved in any activities to weaken any government, including the Iranian government. Wilson Center has never been involved in such activities, either. There is no evidence to support these preposterous claims.”

Haleh Esfandiari’s husband has repeatedly voiced his concerns about conditions through which his wife may have been forced to confess, stating that charges made against her were completely false, requesting her immediate release to provide for her legal defense. In an interview with The Washington Post, Shaoul Bakhash said: “The security forces clearly wish to pressure my wife into forced confessions or to detain her in prison for as long as they can. It is outrageous that political leaders of Iran would allow these games to continue.”

Two Possible Scenarios for Broadcasting the Confessions?

Baztab website, managed by Mohsen Rezaee, Secretary to Expediency Council, referring to the news of the Esandiari/Tajbakhsh confessions noted yesterday: “According to Islamic Republic of Iran Laws, release of names, images, and details of charges against suspects is only possible after a definitive conviction has been made. While these individuals are still in the preliminary investigation stage, and formal charges have not yet been made, broadcasting the film of their confessions on IRIB is baffling.”

“Different views about the real reasons for the broadcast of the confessions have been expressed. Some sources speculate a potential agreement between Ministry of Information and the suspects, gaining their freedom after the broadcast. In that case, they will follow the case of Ramin Jahanbegloo who was released after the confessions film was made. After attending ISNA News Agency, [Jahanbegloo] made similar statements, and was later released without any punishment or bail, after he had been formally accused by Minister of Information of soft overthrow.”

Baztab adds: “On the other hand, there is other news that this case has been finalized with heavy sentences for the suspects. The confessions broadcast aims to prepare the psychological [and] propaganda basis for the eventual announcement of those sentences.”

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