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Iran: Radio Farda -- Outcry Before And After Detainee Broadcast

(RFE/RL) July 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- News of Iranian state television's intention to broadcast footage of detained Iranian-Americans accused of endangering Iranian national security drew widespread condemnation. Criticism continued in the wake of the broadcast on July 18 of the first part of the program, called "In The Name Of Democracy." The following are some of the reactions from Iran and abroad, as expressed to Radio Farda.

Ruzbeh Mirebrahimi, a blogger and journalist who was forced to make televised confessions in 2004, says political prisoners in Iran are under psychological pressure "to cooperate."

"When a prisoner goes to prison -- to solitary confinement -- [authorities] create an atmosphere in which the prisoner feels that he has been left totally alone and no one will defend him," Mirebrahimi says. "They even try to keep your family far from you. They create an atmosphere in the prison in which you think you're 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, says the circumstances surrounding the questioning are unclear from the broadcast. "They have been interrogated under special conditions," Faghihi says. "Because their case is a security case, lawyers could not be with them during interrogations, so we don't know under what conditions they were interrogated. It is not [clear] to us."

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, one of the cofounders of the Tehran-based Center For Human Rights Defenders, condemns the airing of purported "confessions" by Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, saying their broadcast violates Iranian law. "The accused and human greatness should not be degraded," Dadkhah says. "If these [tenets] are not respected, then we cannot [consider] it as [a case] that has been [pursued] with justice and fairness."

Drewery Dyke, an Amnesty International researcher on Iran, condemns the broadcast of the detainees. "The reported confessions of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, two dual nationals currently detained in Iran, flies in the face of Iran's human rights obligations regarding fair-trial procedures, an act which is clearly not permitted under the conventions that Iran is a party to and would undermine any trial that may arise in connection with their detention," Dyke says. His organization "unconditionally condemns this particular act and indeed the apparent basis of their detention, as they appear to be prisoners of conscience held only for their beliefs."

Mohammad Hossein Aqasi, a lawyer in Tehran, says a forced confession cannot be used against a defendant under Iranian law. "In our legal system, it has been stressed that confession can be carried out under conditions in which the accused possesses free will," Aghasi says. "The accused, especially, cannot be in a situation that is seen as stressful."

Abdolkarim Lahidji, the deputy director of the International Federation of Human Rights, says that "the aim of these actions is first to [damage] a personality and secondly to create fear in the society so that they can for some time halt activities by critics, intellectuals, and others who are fighting for freedom of expression and democracy."

Faraj Sarkuhi, a dissident Iranian journalist who was forced to make compromising public statements several years ago, says he thinks Iranian authorities are trying to create fear in society. "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.'"

Readers of the Radio Farda website have also commented on the purported confessions:

Mohammad from Tehran writes that the statements are lies and a "political" move by Iran's establishment.

Reza from Arak says he thinks Iran is trying to deflect attention away from its domestic and international problems.

Another Radio Farda website visitor writes that this kind of "show" and the airing of so-called confessions damages government credibility.

Babak Pardissi writes that the aim is to create fear among Iranians living abroad and convince them that "if you come to Iran, you will be in trouble."

Another Farda website visitor writes that the airing of the "confessions" might seem strange to some but that people in Iran's Baluchistan Province are used to it. He says a number of Baluchis have appeared on television recently and had to "confess to crimes they didn't commit."