Report: Iran TV airs 355 coerced confessions over decade

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Iranian state television has broadcast the alleged forced confessions of at least 355 people over the past decade to suppress dissent and frighten activists in the Islamic Republic on behalf of security services, report released on Thursday.
The study, published by Justice for Iran and the International Federation for Human Rights, described cases in which prisoners were trained to read white boards, with state television correspondents ordering them to repeat the lines with a smile.
Others reported being beaten, threatened with sexual violence and using relatives against them to extract false statements that were later broadcast in news bulletins, magazine-style shows, and programs disguised as documentaries.
The number of people filmed is likely to be even higher, as some say their forced confessions have not yet been broadcast, while other researchers may not have been immediately accessible, said Mohammad Nayyeri, co-director of justice for Iran.
"They always live with the fear of when it will happen," Nayyeri told The Associated Press. "In these cases, this fear itself is no less than the fear and agony and pain of those whose confessions have been broadcast."
Emails to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the state television and radio company, could not be delivered. The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Iranian law, only the state can own and operate television and radio stations. Satellite dishes are common in Tehran, but are still illegal. YouTube and other western video streaming services are blocked. This allows many IRIBs to be observed across its several national and provincial stations.
While state television channels remain a major force in much of the Middle East, the IRIB appears to be particularly influenced by state security agencies such as the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, its military, and the secret service of the country's paramilitary revolutionary guard.
"IRIB acts as a media center that connects a vast network of security, intelligence, military and judicial organizations," the report said. "IRIB is not just a media organization and by no means an independent one, but an organ of state oppression that uses the tools of mass communication."
This means a focus on Iranian military production and exercises to broadcast confessions that have long been criticized by Europe and the United States, as well as human rights groups.
Washington sanctioned a bank in November 2018 that supported IRIB and later its director Abdulali Ali-Asgari. The US Treasury Department said the IRIB "routinely sends false news and propaganda, including forced political prisoners' confessions." US prosecutors even claim that an IRIB employee has recruited a former US Air Force intelligence analyst for the Guard.
However, sanctions against IRIB itself have been lifted every six months since the Obama administration's imposition in 2013, partly because of what the State Department has described as "Iran's obligation to ensure that harmful satellite interference does not come from its territory".
The use of forced confessions broadcast on television dates back to the chaotic years immediately after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. State television broadcast confessions from suspected members of communist groups, insurgents, and others. Even Mehdi Bazargan, Iran's first post-revolution prime minister, once warned that he could be arrested and shown on television "to do things like a parrot".
There have been a number of famous cases of enforced confessions, such as that of Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari, who prompted UK regulators to revoke the license for Iranian state television in English.
The report by the Iranian judiciary and the International Federation for Human Rights details the case of Maziar Ebrahimi, who later said that Department of State officials tortured him and eleven others to make forced confessions alleging that they had nuclear scientists on behalf Israel murdered.
"Even after the Iranian nuclear scientists were admitted to murder, Ebrahimi was still tortured and pressured to take responsibility for another unsolved explosion case at the Mallard missile factory," the report said.
Ebrahimi was later liberated and left Iran for Germany. After the BBC's Persian service reported its story, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei described Ebrahimi's torture as “unprofessional” in August and said those responsible were held accountable.
So far, there has been no public announcement of such billing.
However, the report says there are many more, including those whose confessions have not yet been broadcast. These mere numbers from the past decade surprised Nayyeri and other researchers.
"It was because of the sheer shock of the numbers that we decided to pay more attention to him," he said. You put them together and only then you see how big the problem is. It's not just every now and then. No, that's systematic. It is continuous. "
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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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