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Iranian TV Shows Two Detained Iranian-Americans

Kian Tajbakhsh and Haleh Esfandiari (RFE/RL) July 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian state television aired footage today of two Iranian-American scholars detained in Tehran on charges of acting against national security.

They are the first public images of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh to have appeared since their detentions in May.

Used As Promo

Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh were shown in a promotional clip for a television program called "In the Name of Democracy," to be broadcast in full on July 18 at 10:15 p.m. local time.

Separate excerpts of the two scholars, speaking in Persian, were shown intermittently throughout the clip. In one passage, Esfandiari refers to Georgia's Rose Revolution, although the context is unclear.

Journalists and rights activists have in the past emerged from lengthy detentions in Iran to incriminate themselves in televised confessions. Many of those same people have subsequently told Radio Farda and others that their statements were coerced.

Psychological Pressure

Ruzbeh Mirebarhim, a blogger and journalist who was forced to make televised confessions in 2004, told Radio Farda today that political prisoners in Iran are under psychological pressure "to cooperate." Mirebarhim now lives in the United States.

"When a prisoner goes to prison -- to solitary confinement -- [ authorities] create such an atmosphere that the prisoner would feel that he has been left totally alone and no one would defend him," he said. "They even try to keep your family far from you. They create such an atmosphere in the prison that you would think you all on your own in the solitary confinement facing all kinds of charges."

Mohammad Reza Faghihi, a board member of the Tehran-based Society To Defend Prisoners Rights, told Radio Farda today that it is not known under what conditions they were questioned.

"They have been interrogated under special conditions," he said. "Because their case is a security case, lawyers could not be with them during interrogations. Therefore, we don’t know under what conditions they were interrogated. It is not [clear] to us."

Esfandiari is the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. Tajbakhsh is an urban-planning consultant with the Open Society Institute.

Both were charged in May with acting against Iran's national security. In early June, Iranian media quoted deputy prosecutor Hassan Hadad as saying cryptically that each had admitted to "carrying out activities." Then on July 10, the Iranian judiciary announced that it had new evidence against both.

Others Still Held

Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh are only two of at least four Iranian-Americans being held in Iran.

Journalist Parnaz Azima, a correspondent for the U.S. government-funded Radio Farda, has been charged with disseminating propaganda and is free on bail awaiting trial. A fourth Iranian-American, peace activist Ali Shakeri, is also being detained on security-related charges.

Washington has vehemently dismissed Iranian claims against all four.

Others React

Rights groups have accused the Iranian authorities of politically motivated persecution that will only serve to further Tehran's international isolation. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders, and Iranian Nobel laureate and rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi have all called for their release.

Mohammad Ali Dadakhah, one of the founders of the Tehran-based Center For Human Rights Defenders, in an interview with Radio Farda condemned the airing of the "confessions" by Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh, saying that the broadcasting of them violates Iranian laws.

He said: "The accused and human greatness should not be degraded; if these are not respected then we cannot [consider] it as [a case] that has been twined with justice and fairness."

Readers of the Radio Farda website also commented on the alleged confessions. Mohammad from Tehran wrote that the "confessions" are lies and a "political" move by Iran’s establishment.

Reza from Arak believes that Iran is trying to deflect attention away from it’s domestic and international problems. Another website visitor wrote that this kind of "show" and the airing of so-called confessions caused the government to lose its credibility.

(Radio Farda's Saeedeh Hashemi contributed to this report.)

Radio Farda's Parnaz Azima

Radio Farda's Parnaz Azima