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.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Iran - Save Sakineh!

Having just written about defiance in Iran in my last entry, I have to mention a case where resistance and action are urgently needed.  Sakineh Ashtiani’s life is still in danger today, despite massive global outcry.  We all need to raise our voices to stop her killing and inhumane treatment.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, is held on death row in Tabriz Prison, northwest Iran. She was accused of adultery and condemned to being stoned to death. The Iranian government had to revoke the sentence after her children generated a worldwide outcry against the farcical trial -- she could not speak the language used in court, and the alleged incidents of adultery took place after her husband's death.

Then her lawyer was forced into exile, and the prosecution came up with a new charge for which she would be executed -- the murder of her husband. Despite this being double jeopardy, as she was already serving time for alleged complicity in this crime, Sakineh was tortured and paraded on national television to 'confess', and was found guilty. Since then the regime has arrested two German journalists, her lawyer and her son, who has bravely led the international campaign to save his mother. All remain in prison and Sakineh's son and lawyer have been also tortured and have no access to lawyers.

Following international protests, in July the Iranian embassy in London announced that she would not be stoned to death, but she could still be executed by hanging. An execution order has apparently been delivered to her last week, so her execution might be  imminent.
In Brazil, Turkey, France, the UK and US, high profile politicians including presidents have urged Iran not to execute her.  Now, foreign ministers in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland have followed suit and called on Tehran to commute her death sentence.

 Amnesty International is also calling for the release of Ashtiani's lawyer and son, indicating that they have been seized solely because they were willing to release pertinent information.

Join your voice to the global action to save Sakineh and sign these petitions:  Amnesty International petition and Avaaz petition.  

Hey, Ayatollah, Leave Those kids Alone!

Have a look at this exciting remake on Pink Floyd’s classic “Another Brick in the Wall” – still so relevant today in too many places around the world.  In this version by Canada-based band Blurred Vision, the singers have slightly reworked the lyrics  to produce a new cry for defiance of the authoritarian regime of Iran. “Leave Those Kids Alone” has become an underground anthem in Iran, where young people are breaking the Internet blockade to watch it.

Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters gave Blurred Vision,  two exiled Iranian brothers living in Toronto, permission to tinker with the song for use as an anthem for young Iranians. He said in a statement that he sees the band as playing a vital part in "the resistance to a regime that is both repressive and brutal” and encourages artists to use the song to resist all forms of oppression elsewhere in the world.

The Blurred Vision brothers — 28-year-old Sepp and 35-year-old Sohl — hope the song will elicit solidarity for Iranians fighting for freedom. They haven’t made their last name public because of concern for the wellbeing of family members in Iran.

The video for the song, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Babak Payami, includes footage from the 2009 Iranian “Green Revolution”, the mass uprising which followed the contested presidential election. At least 36 people died during the protests, thousands were arrested and hundreds are still in prison today – many being tortured.