The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's call for airing the "confessions of the rioters" on Wednesday means a number of individuals will soon appear on the state-run television (IRIB) to "confess" they were instructed and paid by foreign powers, the former royal family of Iran or Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) to try to topple the regime by diverting the course of the protests that engulfed the country in November.
As a propaganda tool and an instrument of fear the Iranian authorities have on numerous occasions resorted to televised "confessions". They have used prolonged solitary confinement, torture, and threats against family members to force individuals to make "confessions" on TV that incriminate themselves and other individuals, particularly political activists and dissident groups. Even young social media celebrities have in some instances been forced to make such "confessions" in recent years.
Iranian authorities including the "moderate" president himself now demand that the so-called "confessions of the leaders of the riots" should be aired on the state-run television despite the opposition of activists and some lawmakers to the admissibility of such "confessions".
On November 20, Channel 2 of the IRIB aired the so-called "confessions" of one of the alleged "leaders of the riots" in its notorious 20:30 program. Fatemeh Davand from a Kurdish region bordertown in northwest Iran who was shown briefly said she had fled to Sulaymaniyah, Iraq in 1994. That was all. But the presenter of the program claimed that Davand had been a member of an "anti-revolutionary group" in the past and was one of the leaders of the recent "riots" in her hometown. The program alleged that "the enemy" was using women to incite and lead the riots.
Iranian authorities' demand to air "confessions of the leaders of the riots" is a great cause of concern for human rights advocates, political activists and the public because even innocent ordinary individuals may be forced to make "confessions" to prove that the regime's recent bloody crackdown on protesters was justified, just the same as in 2009.
In 2009 in the aftermath of the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, the state-run television aired the so-called "confessions" of ordinary citizens, political figures, journalists, and even the local staff of the French and British embassies who were accused of espionage and inciting riots. These "confessions" were meant to prove that Khamenei was right in alleging that foreign powers, the British government in particular, were behind the protests against the allegedly rigged election results.
Several individuals who were forced to make scripted confessions recanted them after their release from prison and leaving the country and said they had been given scripts by their interrogators to make "confessions" against themselves and others as well as the political parties and groups that had refused to accept the election results.
In another instance the IRIB aired a documentary named The Terror Club in which Maziar Ebrahimi, a 46-year-old businessman accused of the assassination of Iran's "nuclear scientists" in 2012, "confessed" to having been trained in Israel to carry out the assassinations.
On August 3, 2019 Ebrahimi who now lives in Germany told the BBC that he had been released from prison quietly when the rivalry between the Intelligence Ministry and IRGC's Intelligence Organization resulted in investigations that proved his innocence. According to Ebrahimi he was tortured by the interrogators of the Intelligence Ministry for months to agree to appear in "The Terror Club".
Ebrahimi's revelations sparked much criticism both in Iran and abroad. A motion to ban airing televised confession was submitted to the Majles later in August by a group of reformist representatives. Outspoken lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi released some details of the bill on his Telegram social media channel on September 29. Sadeghi stressed that the motion focused on banning such confessions by prisoners accused of political and security crimes.
"It is not acceptable to make an individual, even a thug and rioter, to speak in front of millions of TV viewers against himself and incriminate himself before he is tried and his crime is proven," Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, a lawyer, wrote in a commentary in Arman-e Melli newspaper on November 26 but criticism and advice does not seem to matter to the rulers of Iran who need to prove that the "Great Leader of the Revolution" is always right.