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Iran: Detained Americans Shown Again On State Television

  • Heather Maher --> Images from the broadcast: Haleh Esfandiari (left), Ramin Jahanbagloo (center), and Kian Tajbakhsh (RFE/RL) July 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- For the second night in a row, Iranian state television has shown a program featuring two detained Iranian-American scholars who authorities have accused of trying to undermine the regime.

As in the previous night's broadcast, the program mixed footage of street demonstrations and revolutions in Eastern Europe with shots of U.S. government officials and statements by the two U.S. citizens being held, giving viewers the impression that all were connected.

Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh were again seen separately on the program, each speaking to an unidentified interviewer. Neither looked physically unwell or seemed distressed.

Esfandiari 'Confesses'

Toward the end of the 36-minute program, Esfandiari, who runs the Middle East program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said she had been part of group whose aim was to bring “major change” to Iran.

“It’s been close to five months that I’ve been in Iran, and I found the opportunity to think about the issues, and discussions that we had," Esfandiari said. "I [have come] to the conclusion that we [the Woodrow Wilson Center] became rings in a chain of institutions, research centers, and universities, which tried -- in the name of democracy, in the name of empowering women, in the name of dialogue -- to create networks that would cause major changes in the Iranian regime and would shake this system.”

Esfandiari described meeting a representative of the Soros Foundation in New York -- part of philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society group -- who told her “they were interested in supporting sessions of lectures on Iran.” The implication was that the goal was to create a network of Iranian activists, academics, and foreign supporters interested in sparking government change.

Tajbakhsh, who is an urban planning consultant with Soros’s Open Society Institute -- and, like Esfandiari, has been held in Iran’s Evin prison since May -- said his employer had a “long-term aim” to divide the Iranian government and people, “to put pressure on the government to change.”

He also said that the Soros Institute, a pro-democracy nongovernmental group, has begun to focus its activities on the Islamic world, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Pakistan.

Video Of Revolutions Shown

Tonight’s broadcast also featured footage of an interview, presumably filmed last year, with Ramin Jahanbegloo, a prominent Iranian-Canadian author and philosopher who spent several months in jail in 2006. He was released in August of 2006 after saying publicly that he had helped the United States undermine the Iranian government.

“Now that I look back at my years of activities from [when I was in the] U.S. to Iran [now], I recognize that I [did] activities that served the interests of the enemies rather than the interests of Iranian people, and I regret that, and I think I have to compensate that the best way possible,” he said.

As before, the broadcast was heavily edited and remarks by Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh were shown in seemingly random order. Their statements were again interspersed with scenes of revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, and President George W. Bush was shown delivering speeches on democracy in Bratislava and Tbilisi.

Rights groups and relatives of the two Americans have condemned the programs and said any statements given are coerced.

The U.S. government has demanded the scholars’ immediate release. Two other Iranian-Americans -- Parnaz Azima, a journalist for Radio Farda, and Ali Shakeri, a member of a California-based peace group -- have also been prevented from leaving the country.

(Radio Farda online editor Fatemeh Aman contributed to this report.)

Radio Farda's Parnaz Azima