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Iran: Ex-Detainee Provides Radio Farda With Window Into 'Confessions'

(RFE/RL) July 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- State television in Iran aired a program on July 18 featuring two Iranian-American scholars who have been detained and charged with crimes against Iran's national security. The broadcast has been condemned by rights groups and the United States, which calls the charges "groundless." Radio Farda spoke ahead of the Iranian broadcast with Faraj Sarkuhi, a dissident Iranian journalist who was forced to make compromising public statements several years ago. He told Radio Farda's Fereydun Zarnegar that such spectacles are aimed at instilling fear in the Iranian leadership's staunchest critics.

Radio Farda: Under what conditions do you think these so-called confessions took place?

Faraj Sarkuhi: Prisoners are subjected to severe psychological and physical pressures -- such as torture, regular interrogations, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, and so forth -- and forced into forced interviews or [confessions]. A film on the Internet depicting the interrogation of the wife of Said Emami [an Intelligence Ministry official who was charged in the serial murders of dissidents and critics] bears witness to these kinds of torture. Keep in mind that Emami's wife was a deputy in the Information Ministry. So the Information Ministry dealt with one of its own members in a harrowing way and tried to coerce her into confessing that she was a spy for Israel, when in fact she was one of the most dedicated defenders of the Islamic republic. This film is credible evidence of psychological torture and also shows torture rooms and flogging procedures. It was produced by the Information Ministry itself and distributed by those factions within the Education Ministry who supported Emami. And this film shows how such forced interviews take place and what methods are used.

Radio Farda: What are [authorities] trying to achieve by putting pressure on prisoners and [airing] these kinds of interviews?

Sarkuhi: In the early years of the Islamic republic, the goal was to rally people behind the government by convincing them that foreign enemies had mobilized and strengthened some elements within the country. But as the number of forced interviews increased, especially following 1981, and the victims of these interviews [publicly] stated the truth about them, the Islamic republic realized that people weren't buying into them any longer. In the current phase, [authorities] are pursuing several goals. One of them is to convince its supporters that it is speaking the truth. Secondly, the Islamic republic has always claimed that the enemy has plans like "cultural invasion" or "velvet revolution" and "soft subversion." But because the Islamic republic doesn't think [people] understand these theoretical discussions, the government is trying to illustrate by providing examples. It is singling out individuals to blame for all social ills. It is calling them the enemy's Trojan Horse. This is a long-term goal, but the short-term goal is very important. When the Islamic republic was facing problems with writers, who were publicly opposing censorship, the government forced them into confessing that they had received orders from the West.

Now the Islamic republic is faced with the issues of women, students, and workers -- different levels of society are expressing their dissatisfaction not only with words but through social and political actions. And the Islamic republic claims that these movements that stem from people's dissatisfaction are organized by the West and by the enemy. Another important point is that the radicals in Iran are trying to hurt people from other factions of the establishment.

Radio Farda: Considering that the public is aware of the government's reasons for conducting these forced interviews, why does the government still resort to such practices?

Sarkuhi: One of the main reasons is to create fear. When [authorities] arrest someone, torture [and] interrogate him and neutralize him, they are sending a clear message to others. When [they] arrest a university professor, that sends a message to other professors; and when they arrest a writer, that sends a message to other writers -- that "we will deal with you also in the same fashion, so sit at home [and] don't do anything and don't [make trouble]." While nobody believes the forced confessions, people know that the victims of these interrogations and confessions have been tortured and held in solitary confinement. So the message [the leadership] is sending to its opponents is: "This is how we deal with our opponents or critics, so sit at home and be quiet."

Radio Farda's Parnaz Azima

Radio Farda's Parnaz Azima