Two human rights organizations denounced the televised coerced confessions as a means of instilling fear and exerting social control.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranian state television has broadcast the coerced confessions of at least 355 people over the past decade as a means to suppress dissent and frighten activists in the Islamic Republic on behalf of security services, according to a report released Thursday.
The study published by Justice for Iran and the International Federation for Human Rights outlined cases of prisoners being coached into reading from whiteboards, with state television correspondents ordering them to repeat the lines while smiling.
Others recounted being beaten, threatened with sexual violence and having their loved ones used against them to extract false testimonies later broadcast on news bulletins, magazine-style shows and programs masquerading as documentaries, the report said.
The number of those filmed is probably even higher, as some say their coerced confessions have yet to air, while others may not have been accessible to researchers, said Mohammad Nayyeri, codirector of Justice for Iran.
“They always live with that fear of when it’s going to happen,” Nayyeri told The Associated Press. “So that fear itself in those cases is not less than the fear and the anguish and pain of those whose confessions have been broadcast.”
Emails sent to Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the state television and radio firm, could not be delivered. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
Under Iranian law, only the state can own and operate television and radio stations. Satellite dishes, though prevalent across Tehran, remain illegal. YouTube and other Western video streaming services are blocked. That leaves many watching IRIB across its multiple national and provincial stations.
While state TV channels remain a major force across much of the Mideast, IRIB particularly appears influenced by state security agencies such as Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, its military and the intelligence arm of the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
“IRIB operates as a media hub that links a vast network of security, intelligence, military and judicial organizations,” the report said. “IRIB is not simply a media organization and by no means an independent one, but rather an organ of state suppression that uses the tools of mass communication.”
That translates to a focus on Iranian military production and exercises to broadcast confessions long criticized by Europe, the United States and human rights groups.
Washington sanctioned a bank supporting IRIB in November 2018 and later its director, Abdulali Ali-Asgari. The U.S. Treasury says IRIB “routinely broadcasts false news reports and propaganda, including forced confessions of political detainees.”
U.S. prosecutors say an IRIB staffer recruited a former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst for the Guard.
However, sanctions on IRIB have been waived every six months since being imposed by the Obama administration in 2013, in part over what the State Department has described as “Iran’s commitment to ensure that harmful satellite interference does not emanate from its territory.”
The use of televised, coerced confessions dates back to the chaotic years after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. State television broadcast confessions by suspected members of communist groups, insurgents and others. Even Mehdi Bazargan, Iran’s first prime minister after the revolution, warned that he could be detained and put on television “repeating things like a parrot.”
There have been a number of famous cases of broadcast coerced confessions, including that of Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari, who got British regulators to revoke the license for Iranian state television English-language arm Press TV over the broadcast of him.
The report by Justice for Iran and the International Federation for Human Rights describes in detail the case of Maziar Ebrahimi, who said Intelligence Ministry officials tortured him and 11 others into giving coerced confessions falsely claiming they assassinated nuclear scientists on behalf of Israel.
“Even after confessing to the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientists, Ebrahimi was still tortured and pressurized to take responsibility for another unsolved case of the explosion in the missile factory in Mallard,” the report said.
Ebrahimi eventually was freed and left Iran for Germany. After the BBC’s Persian service reported on his story, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei in August 2019 called Ebrahimi’s torture “unprofessional” and said those responsible would be held accountable.
There has been no public announcement of such a reckoning taking place.
But there are many more, according to the report, including those who have yet to see their confessions broadcast. Those numbers over the past decade came as a surprise to Nayyeri and other researchers.
“It was because of the sheer shock of the numbers that we decided to give it more attention,” he said. “You put them together and then, only then, you see how huge the problem is. It is not just every now and then. No, this is systematic. This is continuous.”
By JON GAMBRELL