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Will Iran's IRIB Be Sanctioned By The United States?


IRAN -- Paiman Jebeli, deputy chief of Iran's state IRIB broadcaster gives a press briefing about American-born news anchor on Iranian state television's English-language service, Marzieh Hashemi, in Tehran, January 16, 2019

The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) is an integral part of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political system. The IRIB president is appointed directly by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The sprawling media empire controls over 20 national and provincial channels in Iran. IRIB also operates Iran's international broadcasting channels such as Press TV and Hispan TV.

IRIB's channels have regularly aired forced confessions by detainees, especially political prisoners. This activity has come under scrutiny even by Iranian parliamentarians who have demanded the end of such practices.

A recent report by two researchers from the Foundation for Defense of Democracy's Toby Dershowitz and Talia Katz documented human rights violations perpetrated by the IRIB.

Radio Farda broadcaster Noushin Seyyed Hosseini interviewed the authors.

Radio Farda

You have called for worldwide sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran broadcasting IRIB and the state-run agencies controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corpse in Iran. What are your reasons for this call?

FDD-Toby Dershowitz

That's a great question that I mean the essence of the question is why we wrote the report. We wrote it because we have long heard from the Iranian diaspora and from the human rights community that frankly more needs to be done to address these truly awful use of forced confessions, not only on IRIB but also on other state run media and we wanted to take a fresh look at the issue first, to unpack the history of forced confessions. To provide the policy and the business community with a set of effective policy recommendations. And I would just add, the third is that we wanted to do this in order to illuminate really the human stories of the victims of forced confessions. So, this really isn't just about policy, but at the heart of it, it's about people.

Radio Farda

Right. And as supporting evidence for sanctioning IRIB, and IRGC media outlets, you have referred to a few examples of false confessions aired by the IRIB. Can you elaborate on these cases?

FDD-Talia Katz

Sure. We have a few case studies that kind of cover a range of victims of IRIB forced confessions, from religious dissidents, to political protesters to dual nationals, and even just visitors with no connection to Iran, other than studying or just visiting the country. We have examples of individuals who were released and therefore could divulge some of the treatment they were subject to in Iranian prison and how IRIB and its interviewers are actually some of the interrogators in these cases. And most recently, one of the people that we profile in our report, Niloufar Bayani. She was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for her work as an environmental activist. She bravely said in courts about her treatment in Iranian prisons as they tried to elicit a forced confession from her detailing threats of using hallucinogenic drugs, sexual threats, and just physical beatings. And this is not just unique to Bayani, these are across many different individuals who are convicted of contrived crime.

And we detail these quite extensively to show the evil behind the practice of forced confessions.

Radio Farda

Can you explain how sanctions may affect IRIB’s and related institutions’ budget and operations?

FDD-Talia Katz

Sure, so designations can have two main effects here. One of which is that it would send a message to the global community that we should hold IRIB accountable for its violation of international law and its human rights abuses. Also, it would limit though not completely end the regimes access to international audiences. IRIB has offices in 20 countries their budget is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And their foreign operations are very extensive as they broadcast on international satellites. So, designations would have an effect on its credibility to show that it's not actual reporting, it's not actual news. It is simply a mouthpiece of a tyrannical regime. And beyond that, designations and especially designations of individuals who work in IRIB and other state media organizations. If we designate those individuals, it could limit their ability to travel. It could limit the ability to obtain hardware and software and other technical and financial assistance so that they could operate, and it would essentially inhibit its ability to maintain its current level of operations, and it's currently large budget.

Radio Farda

But referring to your answer in some cases, the identity of the interrogator / moderator of IRIB like the case of the IRIB moderator who seems to do the interrogation of Maryam Mombini, is not known. How are you going to enforce sanctions against the people, the individuals like him whose identity is not known?

FDD-Talia Katz

We have a list of top people in IRIB and we detail those in our report as well as heads of other state-run TVs. I think sanctioning these people who are in leadership would have a really large effect on IRIB's ability to operate as we get more information because IRIB and Iran state television in general is not really dedicated to transparency as we get more information of people who are participating in these interrogations and participating in trying to broadcast these interrogations on state television obviously recommends that there should be designations for these individuals, which include freezing their assets and restricting their ability to travel. But for now, we've identified the core leaders of Iran state televisions apparatus and recommend sanctioning them. And that will have a trickle-down effect on the organization as a whole.

FDD-Toby Dershowitz

And if I could add, I think Talia is exactly right. Our report provides many policy options, not just for the United States, but also for the international community. Our overarching goal in doing so is to get to the Islamic Republic of Iran cease these could only be described as inhumane forced confessions, which, as we note in our report are contrary to UN conventions, and frankly, even contrary to Iran's own laws. So, as you mentioned, our policy recommendations identify individuals working for IRIB who have not yet been designated in various countries, although we note those who have been. Our policy recommendations also include a list of vendors that provide goods or services to IRIB. The list that we include in our report was originally published by Iran wire and I mentioned that because the founder of Iran wire, Maziar Bahari himself was a victim of forced confessions. And governments should identify what vendors in their country may be knowingly or unknowingly financing or selling to IRIB or to other Iranian state backed media. We know for example, that Ayanda Bank which the U.S. government sanctioned for financing IRIB, has not yet been designated or sanctioned by other countries. So that is just one thing that they could do in terms of action. Also, lastly, I would just mention that IRIB has 20 national 13 international and 34 provincial channels. As of today, right now, these are broadcast on three satellite companies, though the number fluctuates, of course. So these companies ought to consider whether broadcasting forced confessions violate their own ethical standards.

Radio Farda

Do you believe that the enforcement of these sanctions may lead to halting the airing of coerced confessions by the IRIB?

FDD-Toby Dershowitz

We don't know what calculus the Iranian government will take into consideration or not, but we do know that the international community has called for action against it. And I would just add that, in particular the Iranian diaspora whose family members and communities have been victims, Talia identified that they that they span the spectrum of the Iranian society, right. Nobody has been immune from being a victim of forced confections. No community has been immune. And so, we think it's time that the international community takes additional action. This is not the first time that the international community has taken a look at it. I mean, the United Kingdom has in the past has taken action, [regarding] Maziar Bahari’s [case], the person that I mentioned earlier. There was a movie actually made about his story. It's called Rosewater. And so the public knows about it. And these are not unprecedented. It's time that the international community holds the Iranian regime accountable for it.

Radio Farda

Aren't you worried about Iran's backlash in the form of orbital jamming in case of enforcement of your proposed sanctions against IRIB and IRGC media outlets?

FDD-Toby Dershowitz

I would just underscore, you know, what I've just noted, which is it's never wrong to hold regimes accountable for their inhumane and illegal activities.

Radio Farda

How much hope to do have for approval of these sanctions by the US government?

FDD-Toby Dershowitz

Jump in Tallia if you want to add anything. First of all, I just want to underscore that the burden should not just be on the U.S. government. It should be on the international community, it's international satellites that broadcast IRIB. So that's point number one. Two, I have reason to believe that the United States government is taking the issue of IRIB and forced confessions very seriously. We've had discussions with, with US government officials, and they're concerned about this, and they're looking for action to take. And we provide a whole menu of options. And so, I'm optimistic that over time with sufficient exposure to the problem, I'm optimistic that not only the United States but Canada, the EU and others, whose own Iranian diaspora communities have been victims to this horrific, horrific illegal practice.

FDD-Talia Katz

Just a quick addition here. You know, successive administrations have expressed concern about IRIB. This has been a long-standing concern as the practice of forced confession has spanned decades. And we just hope that this administration along with our European and North American allies, the UN and other international organizations send an unambiguous message that these violations of human rights must cease.

Radio Farda

There was another question that came to my mind. Has the U.S. ever taken such tough sanctions or sought such tough measures against any broadcasting media outlet in any other country because of the deeds that you mentioned? Like airing coerced interviews?

FDD-Talia Katz

So the Unites States has actually taken action against IRIB in the past. In 2013 it passed sanctions, however due to some secret international agreement, that has been waved every 6 months. So the actions have been taken in the past however, because of some agreements that we don't know, they've been waived, and we're kind of, in our report exploring ways to take action against IRIB if that is not direct designation of the organization, but looking at other options we can take to ensure that they are held accountable.

FDD-Toby Dershowitz

And I would just add that in addition to IRIB, yes, the United States government actually found Hezbollah's television Almanar TV and Hamas TV stations, which is called Al-aqsa TV. They put them on their sanctions list and they have found that there's no difference just because they're a media organization. There's no difference between them and the terrorist entities themselves.

Radio Farda

I just wanted to ask if you're aware if the U.S. has ever taken any similar sanctions against any other media outlets in the world's like any other country?

FDD Talia Katz

The United States designated Hezbollah television station, which is called Al-Manar. And that's because it found that Al-Manar even though it is a media organization, it was owned and operated and controlled by Hezbollah. And the United States isn't the only one that sanctioned Al-Manar. Also, the EU sanctioned Al-Manar and the idea was that media companies could not hide behind the corporate veil of being a so-called media company, when in fact it was using its own reporters, in much the same way that IRIB is using its reporters to engage in things like pre operational surveillance. And in the case of our IRIB, as we've explained in our report, reporters, so called reporters are actually operative of the IRGC itself. And so yes, this this kind of action has been taken in the past.

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