(New York) - Iranian authorities are coercing detained supporters of reform presidential candidates to implicate leading reformists in illegal acts, Human Rights Watch said today. Intelligence forces have also intensified pressure on the families of detainees to be silent about their cases.
Family members and recently released detainees have described to Human Rights Watch the coercion that is taking place. On July 15, 2009, Gholamhussein Mohseni Ejeie, Iran's minister of intelligence, told reporters that, "The confessions obtained from those arrested could be made public, should the Judiciary decide to air their remarks."
"It's appalling that the minister of intelligence is talking about publicizing confessions made by people held for weeks without access to lawyers," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The minister's statement underscores our fears that these so-called confessions are obtained under duress."
In the aftermath of the June 12 contested presidential election, the government has arrested hundreds of political dissidents and supporters of the reformist candidates Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi. In many cases, the authorities have refused to provide information about the conditions of their detention. Some detained reformist leaders, including Mostafa Tajzadeh, Behzad Nabavi, and Hamzeh Ghalebi, have had no contact with their families since their arrests more than a month ago.
One person recently released from Tehran's Evin prison described the situation there as "dire." He told Human Rights Watch that prison officials had videotaped a statement by another detainee, a coordinator of Mousavi's campaign, in which the coordinator "admitted" that Tajzadeh and other reformist politicians were responsible for the post-election "riots."
Another former detainee who spent several weeks in Evin separately told Human Rights Watch that authorities have forced young supporters to implicate leading reformists in their "confessions."
"I saw some prisoners with arms and legs in casts or with bruises on their body," the former detainee told Human Rights Watch. "Some young supporters of Mousavi's campaign were forced to make confessions against the distinguished reformists."
The father of one detainee who reportedly made such a confession told Human Rights Watch that, in a brief telephone call home, his son stated that he was "well." When his father told him that an attorney is following up his case, he replied that he "does not need any lawyer, as nobody can help him." "He then started crying and the phone was disconnected," the father said. "His family is familiar with his strong spirit and we were deeply concerned by his tone and tears."
A third recently released prisoner told Human Rights Watch that when detainees are allowed to make short phone calls home, it is only in the presence of prison guards, who tell them what they are allowed to say. The prisoner knows that he is subject to abuse if he says anything about prison conditions or how detainees are treated.
Tajzadeh, who served as deputy minister of interior under President Mohamed Khatami, was the target in a similar forced-confession case in the past. In 2004, four detained journalists "confessed" that Tajzadeh and other reformists "deceived" them to get them to write articles about Iran's national security apparatus and to smear the country's name.
A few days after authorities televised their confessions, two of the journalists told a presidential fact-finding committee that their confessions had been extracted under psychological and physical torture. One of the journalists told Human Rights Watch at the time that his interrogator had told him that Tajzadeh was among the reformists who "sooner or later will show up in prison."
The wife of one of the reformists held in Evin prison told Human Rights Watch that the authorities had pressed her not to talk to the media. She said she had agreed, but "on condition that my husband leaves prison healthy."
"If they are going to hurt him or try him or play some other games, we won't stay quiet," she said. "They tell us not to say anything, to tell others that conditions in prison are good, that they have no complaints. But this is contrary to what we know. The interrogations are particularly tormenting. They don't just ask questions about political issues. They ask details about the individual's personal life, looking for a dark spot to use against the prisoner, building a case against him."