Monday, 22 November 2010

Sakineh's Forced Confession

Sakineh Mohammad Ashtiani is still alive; she has apparently confessed "sin of adultery" to Iran TV.

Appearing on TV for the third time since her case caught the world's attention, Ashtiani reiterated her previous televised "confessions" that she was involved in the murder of her husband. "I am a sinner," she said. Her face was blurred and the interview, conducted in her native Azeri language, was subtitled in Farsi.

During the interview, Ashtiani also accused Mina Ahadi, an activist of the German-based International Committee Against Stoning (Icas), who has been successful in bringing her case to the world's attention. The broadcast, on Iran's Channel 2, portrayed Ahadi as "a communist dissident exiled in Germany", who had taken advantage of Ashtiani 's case for her own benefit.

There were also alleged confessions from her son Sajad Ghaderzadeh, her lawyer Houtan Kian and the two German journalists detained while interviewing Ghaderzadeh and Kian last month.

The programme stated that her lawyers, Mohammad Mostafaei and Kian, promoted her case because "they were looking for excuses to claim asylum in western countries".  Mostafaei, Ashtiani 's first lawyer, was arrested and subsequently forced to leave Iran after giving interviews to foreign press. He is now in Norway. Kian, who represented Ashtiani after Mostafaei, has been jailed since October and claimed that Ashtiani was beaten and tortured before appearing on TV for the first time.

Forced TV confessions, especially of political prisoners, are common in Iran.   I have met many Iranian former political prisoners and all said they have been tortured so that they would publicly confess their “sins” and recant their allegiances and beliefs.

 In his disturbing book “Tortured Confessions",  historian Ervand Abrahamian explains that the use of systematic torture in Iran’s prisons is not conducted to obtain information, but a public confession and ideological recantation. For the victim, whose honour, reputation and self-respect are destroyed, the act is a form of suicide.

In Iran, a subject's "voluntary confession" reaches a huge audience via television. The accessibility of television and use of videotape have made such confessions a primary propaganda tool, says Abrahamian, and because torture is hidden from the public, the victim's confession appears to be self-motivated, increasing its value to the authorities.  Similar public recantation campaigns have been led in Maoist China, Stalinist Russia and by the religious inquisitions of early modern Europe.

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