Iran uses activists for propaganda
Interviews with two detained Iranian-American activists ran on state-run Iranian television Wednesday. Analysts say their self-implicating statements were coerced.
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Still, the film's persuasive power didn't impress everyone in the audience. "They haven't made any serious confession," said Nilufar, a Tehran housewife, who was contacted by a reporter in Tehran and asked that her full name not be used. "I see the whole thing as being stupid. Anybody that has been deprived of sleep and tortured would say anything they want."Skip to next paragraph
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The Bush administration has spoken frequently of regime change, and includes Iran as part of an "axis of evil." The vitriol has prompted fears among security forces in Iran of an East European-style "velvet revolution."
In the film, Mr. Bush is seen during a speech saying "the untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world." The movie also shows President Vladimir Putin of Russia – which has clamped down on NGOs over concerns of similar, Western-sponsored unrest – complaining about such pro-democracy efforts.
After showing scenes of street violence abroad, and then in Iran, the narrator asks, "How are velvet revolutions led? Which country is next?"
The purpose is to "reinforce the concern in the Iranian public that there is an American plot against Iran [and that it is] an imminent threat," says Mr. Abrahamian.
"The theater [of the film] adds to that," says Abrahamian. "It also tells Iranians to beware of anyone from abroad who is talking about human rights. So even if you are not involved in regime change … you would be tarred with the same brush."
On Tuesday, a group of six women Nobel laureates – including Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who represents Esfandiari – said charges of "actions against national security" were "entirely without foundation." The academic, Ms. Ebadi said, was a "tireless promoter of and believer in dialogue between Iran and the international community."
"This reprehensive pattern of activity by interrogators in Iran has occurred before: jailing innocent people, confining them, and then producing a framed or cobbled statement or confession," says Lee Hamilton, the head of the Wilson Center.
In the film, Esfandiari described how her center was a "highway" for Iranian speakers to come to the US, to find fellowships, and provide analysis. The US government would also provide some money for research. The aim, she said, was "to create a little change in decisionmaking bodies inside Iran, a sort of change from within."
After the broadcast, state radio said in a commentary that the "wide reaction by Western media and governments" to the case "indicates a calculated conspiracy to topple the [Islamic] system in Iran."
Such political theater before television cameras is not new and was used extensively against political suspects in the early years of the revolution.
People from across the political spectrum were "brought in front of the cameras to make confessions," says Abrahamian, author of the 1999 book, "Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran." "It was a routine thing: you made a video. It [was so common] it became a joke."
Esfandiari's daughter, Washington lawyer Haleh Bakhash, wrote that her mother "sounded wooden – unnatural and coerced."
"When the television program ended, I felt contempt for my mother's jailers and interrogators," Ms. Bakhash wrote in The Washington Post Thursday. "But I was filled with admiration for my mother [who] preserved her dignity, held her head high, and did not lie."