DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Iranian state television has broadcast suspected confessions of at least 355 people over the past decade as a means of suppressing dissent and frightening activists in the Islamic Republic on behalf of security forces, a report released Thursday.
The investigation, published by Justice for Iran and the International Federation of Human Rights, outlined cases where prisoners were coached to read from whiteboards, with state television correspondents instructing them to repeat the rules with a smile.
Others said they were beaten, threatened with sexual assault, and that their loved ones were used against them to uncover false testimonials that were later broadcast on news bulletins, magazine-style shows, and programs masquerading as documentaries, the report said.
The number of people filmed is likely to be even higher, as some say their forced confessions have not yet aired, while others may not have been immediately accessible to investigators, said Mohammad Nayyeri, Co-Director of Justice for Iran.
“They always live with that fear of when it’s going to happen,” Nayyeri told The Associated Press. “So in those cases the fear itself is no less than the fear and fear and pain of those whose confessions have been broadcast.”
Emails sent to the Islamic Republic of Iran broadcaster, the state television and radio company, could not be delivered. Iran’s mission to the United Nations has not responded to a request for comment.
Iranian law restricts the state to own and operate television and radio stations. Although satellite dishes are found all over Tehran, they remain illegal. YouTube and other western video streaming services have been blocked. This ensures that many view IRIB in the different national and provincial stations.
While state TV channels remain a major force in much of the Middle East, IRIB appears to have been particularly influenced by state security agencies such as the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, the military and the intelligence service of the country’s paramilitary revolutionary guard.
“IRIB operates as a media hub that connects a vast network of security, intelligence, military and judicial organizations,” the report said. “IRIB is not just any media organization and certainly not an independent one, but rather a body of state oppression that uses the tools of mass communication.”
That translates to a focus on Iranian military production and exercises on making confessions that have long been criticized by Europe and the US, as well as human rights organizations.
Washington approved a bank in November 2018 that supported IRIB and later its director, Abdulali Ali-Asgari. The US Treasury says IRIB “routinely broadcasts false news and propaganda, including forced confessions from political prisoners.” US prosecutors even claim that an IRIB employee recruited a former US Air Force intelligence analyst.
However, sanctions against IRIB itself have been waived every six months since they were imposed by the Obama administration in 2013, in part because of what the State Department has described as “Iran’s commitment to ensure that harmful satellite interference is not originates from its territory. “
The use of confessions broadcast under duress dates back to the chaotic years immediately following the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. State television broadcast confessions from suspected members of communist groups, insurgents and others. Even Mehdi Bazargan, Iran’s first prime minister after the revolution, at one point warned that he could be detained and put on television to “repeat things like a parrot.”
There are a number of known cases of forced confessions, such as that of Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari, who has had British regulators withdraw the license for Iranian state television, the English-language arm Press TV.
The Justice for Iran and International Federation for Human Rights report details the case of Maziar Ebrahimi, who later said Ministry of Intelligence officials tortured him and 11 others to make forced confessions claiming to be on behalf of Israel had killed nuclear scientists.
“Even after admitting to murdering Iranian nuclear scientists, Ebrahimi was still tortured and pressured to take responsibility for another unsolved case of the explosion at the Mallard missile factory,” the report said.
Ebrahimi was later released and left for Germany from Iran. After the BBC’s Persian service reported on his story, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei called Ebrahimi’s torture “unprofessional” in August and said those responsible would be held accountable.
To date, there has not yet been a public announcement of such a settlement.
But there are many more, according to the report, including those who have not yet seen their confessions broadcast. Those huge numbers in the past decade came as a surprise to Nayyeri and other researchers.
“It was because of the massive shock to the numbers that we decided to pay more attention to it,” he said. “You put them together and only then you see how big the problem is. It is not every now and then. No, this is systematic. This is continuous. ‘
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