Sunday, 5 July 2009

Iran - detained opposition leaders at risk of torture to force TV confessions

I was dismayed to hear that many callers on a BBC 4 programme on Iran over the weekend believed that the demonstrations against the outcome of the 12 June election – and the claim of the fixed election itself – were part of a foreign-led plot against the Islamic regime. Even the Independent newspaper’s Robert Fisk suggested in a recent opinion piece that much of the reported demonstrations and violence by security forces were fantasy.

That is exactly what the regime is hoping to achieve. Iranian opposition websites claim the regime is torturing jailed Iranian reformists to force them into TV “confessions” aimed at implicating Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the defeated reformist candidates, in an alleged conspiracy, or the US and UK.

Amnesty International is gravely concerned that several journalists and opposition leaders – including Mohsen Aminzadeh, Abdollah Ramazanadeh and Mostafa Tajzadeh - detained in the wake of the elections may be facing torture to force them to make televised ‘confessions’ as a prelude to unfair trials in which they could face the death penalty.

On Friday 26 June, cleric Ahmad Khatami, who is a member of the Assembly of Experts, called on the judiciary to punish, severely and without mercy, those involved in the demonstrations. Ominously, he used the term moharebeh or enmity against God, a charge that can carry the death penalty.

Televised “confessions” have repeatedly been used in the past by the Iranian authorities to incriminate political activists in their custody or force prisoners of conscience to recant their beliefs or allegiances. Many have later retracted these “confessions”, stating that they were coerced to make them, sometimes after torture or other ill treatment. Iranian historian Ervand Abrahamian documents this practice in Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran.

Mohsen Aminzadeh, Abdollah Ramazanadeh and Mostafa Tajzadeh are among hundreds of politicians, journalists, academics, students and human rights activists, who have been detained, some briefly, across Iran since the election. Most are either supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi or Mehdi Karroubi, or are close to ex-President Khatami who supported Mousavi’s campaign. Others have been critical of incumbent President Ahmadinejad’s policies.

According to official statements, well over a thousand others have been arrested. Protesters were dealt with brutally by security forces. Many were beaten and, according to the authorities, up to 21 people have been killed, although the true number is likely to be higher.

Amnesty is asking people to call on the Iranian authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with the protestors and to ensure that those arrested are not tortured or otherwise mistreated.

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