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Rights Groups Urge EU To Act Against Iran Broadcaster For Televised 'Forced Confessions'

Ali Rezvani and Amena Sadat Zabihpour are two of Iran's state-run TV reporters who have actively participated in extracting "forced confessions". FILE PHOTO

Cooperation between Iranian security forces and the state television in extracting "forced confessions" has become a great concern for human rights organizations.

Rights defenders fear that protesters detained during November and January protests may be forced more aggressively to "confess" in front of TV cameras.

Thirteen human rights and civil society organizations on January 30 urged the European Union to adopt restrictive measures against Iran's state broadcaster (IRIB) and its officials for production and broadcast of forced confessions of dissidents, often used in court as incriminating evidence.

Iran's Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guard Intelligence Organization have a long history of resorting to prolonged solitary confinement, torture, and threats against family members to force political prisoners, journalists, activists, and even ordinary people to "confess".

Many individuals who the authorities have identified as alleged leaders of the protests during the unrest in November and January are at the risk of being coerced to "confess". Their televised confessions may be used against them or others for harsh sentences including the death penalty.

According to Justice for Iran, a London-based human rights organization, more than 350 individuals have been coerced to confess on state-run TV (the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB)) since the 2009 election protests. The IRIB has worked closely with security forces to produce and air the programs that feature so-called confessions.

Forced confessions are used in documentaries the state-run television airs or are shown in news programs to incriminate the coerced individuals or others. Such confessions are often made in show trials that the state broadcaster will air, sometimes even live as in the case of the highly publicized show trials of 2009 that followed post-election unrest.

For years an IRIB program called 20:30 news has been the primary vehicle of broadcasting forced confessions. The names of the director of the channel that hosts and broadcasts the program, as well as four of the program's journalists, are on the list of the individuals that the 13 signatories of the letter have urged the EU to sanction.

In December Sepideh Qolyan (Gholian), a labor rights activists, in a series of tweets revealed the role of Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour, one of the journalists these human rights organizations have urged the EU to sanction, in her forced confessions. Qolyan said Zabihpour had prepared the text that her interrogators tortured her to read in front of a camera. A documentary made on the basis of the "confessions" of Qolyan and others was aired by IRIB in January.

Another journalist working for the program, Ali Rezvani, whose name appears in the list allegedly forced the wife of an Iranian-Canadian environmentalist, Kavous Seyed Emami, to "confess" that her husband was a spy. Seyed Emami's son last year disclosed Rezvani's role in coercing his mother to speak against his father. Seyed Emami was arrested late January 2018 and charged with espionage. His dead body was found on February 8. The authorities claimed he had committed suicide in prison.

Some of the dual nationals arbitrarily detained in Iran have been forced to make self-incriminating confessions, too.

In the case of dual-nationals, the IRIB's English channel (Press TV) takes on the role of broadcasting forced confessions to the world outside. A former director of Press TV and one of its news editors have been on the European Union's list of human rights violators sanctioned for their role in obtaining and broadcasting confessions of detainees including Iranian-Canadian journalist Mazir Bahari and Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Iran.

The signatories of the petition to the EU Council have pointed out that there is "clear precedence of the EU in taking restrictive measures against entities of the Islamic Republic involved in human rights violations" such as the Iranian Cyber Police for its role in the torture of political prisoners.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) ​ passed a resolution December 18 calling on Iran to end its ongoing human rights violations including the practice of "forced confessions".

The signatories of the letter to the European Union Council include Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran, All Human Rights for All in Iran, Article 19, Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijan People (AHRAZ), Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM), Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Impact Iran, Iran Human Rights, Justice for Iran, Kurdistan Human Rights- Geneva (KMMK-G), Outright Action, Siamak Pourzand Foundation, and 6Rang (Iranian Lesbian & Transgender Network).

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.