The head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, Mohammad Sarafraz, and the news director of its English-language channel, Press TV, Hamid Reza Emadi, lodged an official complaint at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) today, May 5, for their inclusion on the European Union's sanctioned people of Iran list.
The EU ruled to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on the two men in 2013 for their decision to broadcast forced confessions by tortured or mistreated political prisoners in Iran, including the journalist and founder of IranWire, Maziar Bahari. But Sarafraz and Emadi want the restrictions lifted.
During an interview with Danish Television station, TV DR, Bahari compared the experience of having to confess to being raped. He said that, like many both before and after him, that he was forced to do it because of huge amounts of psychological and physical pressure.
“What we went through as political prisoners who were forced to confess was really similar to people who are raped in public — because of the sense of humiliation, the sense of being invaded, degraded and forced to do something, “ said Bahari. “They arrested me to send a message to other journalists and filmmakers across Iran that this is what is going to happen to you. I had to confess that the Western media is bad and a tool of capitalism.”
"Broadcasting forced confessions is a way of intimidating and oppressing the entire population and frightening them against speaking out," says human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr. "Moreover, these forced confessions are usually used as evidence in the Revolutionary Courts."
However, when he was initially notified about the sanctions, Sarafraz told Al-Alam news network that the EU bans were “unreasonable” and imposed because of a 10-second report broadcast about Bahari, who worked for Newsweek in Tehran during the 2009 Green Revolution.
“These bans and restrictions are not disturbing at all because they show we [Press TV] have achieved our goals and how influential we have become,” Sarafraz said at the time, adding that Europe's current leaders were merely the “descendants of the same dictators who imposed two global wars on the world.”
Despite suggesting the sanctions would not affect him two years ago, Sarafraz's insistence to contest the decision at the ECJ in Luxembourg conveys a different viewpoint.
"The work of these Press TV officials is dependent on traveling abroad and doing business in Europe, so this is seriously disturbed," says Sadr. "But this simply shows the positive impact sanctions can have on human rights. Human rights sanctions are not only a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the victims but a real means for accountability."
Currently, Iran faces sanctions from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States. EU sanctions include a ban on a number of things, including the supply of heavy weaponry, nuclear-related technology and arms exports, a ban on transactions with Iranian banks and financial institutions and an asset freeze on key individuals and companies.
Sarafraz and Emadi fall under the latter EU category. However, they are both exempt from the US sanctions list, meaning they can travel to the US and store funds in the country if they so choose.
Justice For Iran, a human rights non-governmental organization, has published several reports on Press TV’s role in violating human rights and compiled substantial evidence against Sarafraz and Emadi for their hearings and forthcoming trials.
Other journalists, political activists and members of the Arab and Kurdish minorities were also shown on Press TV giving forced confessions.
According to Nikki Hollis, a press officer at the ECJ, “normally the trial judgment comes out three to six months after the hearing” meaning a verdict will not be reached until August 2015 at the earliest.
The hearing for Hamid Reza Emadi began at 9.30am Mohammad Sarafraz’s began at 3.30pm. Both were open to the public.
Sadr said of today's hearings: "Although no one can predict what the court's final decision will be, the session today went very well so we're pretty optimistic. "
Watch Maziar Bahari's full interview with TV DR here.