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The Iranian government should cancel the scheduled July 18 broadcast of the “confessions” of two detained Iranian-Americans, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Iranian authorities have used coercive means to compel Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh to make statements that may be later used to incriminate them in court.

On July 16, 2007, Iranian television announced that Channel One would broadcast the “confessions” of Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh at 9:45 p.m. on July 18 and July 19. The authorities have held them in largely incommunicado detention for more than two months, preventing lawyers and family members from visiting them. They have only been permitted brief phone calls to family members.

“Public ‘confessions’ of this kind are a shameful tactic used by oppressive governments around the world,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s a way for governments to intimidate critical voices into silence and flaunt their disregard for fundamental rights.”

Iranian television on July 16 ran an advertisement for a program, “In the Name of Democracy,” that showed Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh speaking about “velvet revolutions.” Canadian-Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo, whom the authorities arrested in April 2006 and released after four months of detention once he had “confessed” that his scholarly work had contributed to the planning of a “velvet revolution,” is also featured in the video.

Iran has accused Esfandiari, head of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, and Tajbakhsh, a consultant for the Open Society Institute, of “spying,” “planning the soft overthrow of the government,” and “acting against national security.”

Esfandiari, 67, has been in Tehran’s Evin prison since May 8, 2007, when officials at the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence summoned her for questioning and then arrested her without warrant. Several days later, authorities arrested Tajbakhsh and detained him at Evin prison. Both have been held in solitary confinement.

Esfandiari’s lawyer, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, says that authorities have not allowed her to meet with her client or to examine her case files. Ebadi also said that Esfandiari’s health was deteriorating as a result of the harsh conditions in prison.

International human rights law protects detained persons from mistreatment, including making forced “confessions.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party, protects the right of every person “[n]ot to be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt.” It is unlawful for authorities to use coercive means to obtain incriminating statements. Broadcasting such statements is a form of degrading treatment prohibited by international law.

Two other Iranian-Americans, Parnaz Azima and Ali Shakeri, are also currently facing similar charges of “acting against national security.” Like Esfandiari, both were in Iran for family reasons.

Authorities have detained Shakeri in Evin prison since May, around the same time that Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh were arrested. Shakeri serves on the Community Advisory Board of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine. He also belongs to a group that advocates for a secular and democratic Iran.

Parnaz Azima, a reporter for the US-funded Radio Farda, is not currently in custody, but authorities have confiscated her passport and have barred her from leaving the country. She is currently out on a 510 million Toman (approximately US$540,000) bail.

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