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Center Warns Of Coercion In Iranian Detention Case

Haleh Esfandiari (file photo) (AFP) July 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Woodrow Wilson Center says any purported "confessions" by Iranian-American Haleh Esfandiari, a scholar detained in Iran, have "no legitimacy."

The center's president, former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton, issued a statement on July 16 calling any charges against his colleague "ludicrous" and urging Iranian authorities to "let Haleh and the other detained Iranian-Americans return safely to their families."

Esfandiari, director of the U.S. center's Middle East Program, and another U.S.-American scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh, are being held in Iran on charges of acting against the country's national security.

At least two other Iranian-Americans are currently facing security-related charges in Iran. Peace activist Ali Shakeri has been detained, and 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.

Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh were recently shown in an advertisement for a special program, called "In The Name Of Democracy," which Iranian state television said would be broadcast in full on July 18. The circumstances under which they were questioned for the program were not clear.

Hamilton dismissed "any statements" as "coerced" and without "legitimacy or standing." He also points to a "reprehensible pattern of activity by interrogators in Iran" that has included confinement followed by "a framed or cobbled statement or confession" from innocent detainees.

Journalists and rights activists detained in Iran have in the past incriminated themselves in televised confessions. Many of those same people have subsequently told Radio Farda and others that their statements were coerced.

The family of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who appears to have died at the hands of a brutal interrogator in July 2003 amid vague accusations of "spying," is in a legal battle over Iranian authorities' failure to prosecute the perpetrators of that killing.

Radio Farda's Parnaz Azima

Radio Farda's Parnaz Azima