Amid Torture Claims, Iranian Lawmakers Push For Ban On TV 'Confessions'

For years, Iran’s state broadcaster has aired so-called confessions by political prisoners that, according to right groups and former detainees, are extracted under duress.

But now a group of lawmakers wants to ban the broadcasting of such testimony, and it is also calling for the punishment of those involved.

A member of the parliament’s presidium, Ali Asghar Yousefnejad, said on November 4 that the legislature had received a motion to ban the airing of confessions on state TV and other mass media.

The motion was reportedly drafted by outspoken reformist lawmaker Mahmud Sadeghi, who released some details of the bill on September 29 via social media and said it focused on confessions by prisoners accused of political and security crimes.

The draft proposes an outright ban on airing the confessions of such detainees and six-month to three-year prison sentences for anyone involved in the production and airing of such confessions.

It also says officials who order the recording or airing of detainee confessions should face prison terms, as well as dismissal from their posts and a ban from holding state posts for as long as five years.

In recent years, a number of former Iranian detainees have recanted their confessions after their release from prison, insisting that they had been forced to read from scripts dictated to them by their interrogators.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International said Iranian authorities are using “detention, prolonged solitary confinement, and threats against family members” in order to extract forced video “confessions” from women arrested for campaigning against the country’s compulsory hijab law, which requires women to cover their hair and body in public.

Sadeghi said he drafted the bill in reaction to televised confessions by prisoners, citing a "false" documentary aired by state television in 2012 that featured about a dozen individuals who had confessed to spying for Israel and involvement in the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists between 2010 and 2012.

One of the men who appeared in that documentary and now lives in Germany, 46-year-old Maziar Ebrahimi, told the BBC in August that he had agreed to “confess” to crimes dictated to him by Intelligence Ministry interrogators after being tortured for 40 days.

"The interrogators were hitting the soles of my bare feet with a thick electric cable," said Ebrahimi, who added that before his arrest he ran a company that specialized in setting up TV studios.

"They broke my foot. The beatings continued for seven months,” he told BBC.

Ebrahimi said he and others accused of spying were released in 2015 after a rival intelligence body affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) found discrepancies in his confession.

Ebrahimi’s interview stoked renewed criticism of Iranian state TV's routine practice of airing coerced confessions.

The state broadcaster, whose chief is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is still using the tactic, which is frequently aimed at discrediting activists.

Last month, Iranian TV aired a clip of exiled opposition activist Roohollah Zam after he was arrested by the IRGC in an unknown location.

Zam, who had managed the popular anti-government Amad News channel on the Telegram app from abroad, was first seen blindfolded in a car. He was then shown sitting in a room and expressing “regret” over “the incidents in the past three, four years” and also for “trusting” the French government.

He also said that “trusting any government is not right, particularly those governments that show they don’t have good relations with the Islamic republic, such as the U.S. administration, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey.”

Zam's current whereabouts are unknown.