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Iran’s State TV Airs Forced Confessions of Journalist

July 11, 2020
Niloufar Rostami
6 min read
A new episode of 20:30 shows Ali Rezvani “interviewing” Ruhollah Zam
A new episode of 20:30 shows Ali Rezvani “interviewing” Ruhollah Zam
Ali Rezvani is a correspondent for IRIB and a Revolutionary Guards intelligence interrogator
Ali Rezvani is a correspondent for IRIB and a Revolutionary Guards intelligence interrogator
During the broadcast, Ali Rezvani showed his phone to Ruhollah Zam and said with a laugh, "This is your channel, the moment your arrest was announced"
During the broadcast, Ali Rezvani showed his phone to Ruhollah Zam and said with a laugh, "This is your channel, the moment your arrest was announced"

Journalist Ruhollah Zam has “confessed” to his crimes on Iranian state television. 

Zam, who was handed down the death penalty at the end of June, appeared on a new episode for the 20:30 television show called "Without Compliments," on the evening of July 10. The program regularly broadcasts the forced confessions of journalists.

Zam, the founder the Amad News website and Telegram channel, was “interviewed” on TV by Ali Rezvani, a correspondent for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Rezvani is also an interrogator for the intelligence department of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. 

During the program, Rezvani and Zam sat close together on brown armchairs, blue curtains covering the space behind them. 

At one point, Rezvani showed his phone to Ruhollah Zam and said with a laugh, "This is your channel, the moment your arrest was announced."

In response, Ruhollah Zam said, "It's just the beginning," appearing as though he had been told he must say something. 

Ali Rezvani continued: "At the moment this was published, the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence service arrested Ruhollah Zam and the Guards’ logo appeared on the screen instead of the channel logo. Haven't you seen this? ”

“No,” Zam replied. 

Ali Rezvani then became more aggressive, and said with another laugh: "Do you know the beautiful point about this scene? When this was published, subscribers to the channel quickly dispersed. Everyone was escaping!”

"It means the credibility of the channel was with me," Ruhollah Zam said, again an obvious subject being tasked to answer to his interrogator in front of the cameras.

Then Rezvani, leaning forward on the sofa, said in a threatening tone, laughing again: "You were definitely the fire-blower!”

In the broadcast, Ruhollah Zam wore the same shirt and trousers he wore in a previous televised confession in October 2019, an hour after his arrest was announced by the Guards’ intelligence department. The curtains in the scene in October 2019 are the same blue as those that appear in the July 10 broadcast. It appears as though this is the location where Ruhollah Zam has been kept from the very beginning.

As the interview continued, they discussed Ruhollah Zam's weight gain and los and the role of the Guards in his arrest, accompanied by images of his arrest, in which Zam was seen sitting in the back seat of a car blindfolded.

The “conversation” was broadcast on television, a reminder to his family that they have not been allowed to visit him, and to the public that he is being severely punished and humiliated for his crimes. 


Links to Iran’s High-Profile Environmental Activists Case

Iranian media has reported Rezvani holds a Bachelor's degree in sociology and started his journalism career at the Young Journalists Club, set up by IRIB. After a period there, he worked for IRIB itself. But, then, in November 2018, Rezvani was named as an interrogator and intelligence officer for the Revolutionary Guards in the case of Kavous Seyed-Emami, an academic and environmental campaigner who died in custody in suspicious circumstances in February 2018.

Ramin Seyed-Emami, the son of Kavous Seyed-Emami, told the Human Rights Campaign in Iran group after he watched a few minutes of a documentary entitled Everlasting Suspects broadcast in November 2018, that the reporter in the documentary was the same person who had gone to his family’s house with Guards intelligence agents to interrogate his mother.  The documentary went off air after a few minutes due to what the IRIB described as “technical defects.”

According to Ramin Seyed-Emami, Rezvani and the agents arrived at the house, turned on their cameras, and forced his mother, Maryam Membini, to confess. After the ordeal she fainted and had to be taken to the hospital. 

Kavous Seyed-Emami, who was a professor at Imam Sadegh University as well as an activist,  was arrested in January 2018. Judicial officials classified his mysterious death in February as suicide. The cause of his death has never been verified. 

The Everlasting Suspects documentary focused on Kavous Seyed-Emami and other detained activists in the case against environmentalists, which has attracted widespread media intention both in and outside Iran. The documentary sets out to explain the legal justification for their imprisonment. The eight environmentalists are currently serving long prison sentences.  

In addition to Seyed-Emami’s claims, prominent journalist and activist Masih Alinejad, now based in the United States, wrote about her knowledge of Ali Rezvani on Twitter in November 2019: ”Ali Rezvani is not a journalist, he is an interrogator and a colleague of the security agencies who went to my mother’s house with two Babol intelligence department agents to interview my mother in a TV report to obtain confessions against me.” She said her mother refused to let them in the house "so they took my brother hostage.”


The Strange Profession of Reporter-Interrogator

But Ali Rezvani is not the only reporter-interrogator in Iran's security services. There are others, including Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour, Hassan Shemshadi, and Hamidreza Emadi, who work as IRIB reporters and have interrogated political prisoners.

Sepideh Gholian, a labor activist currently in prison, had previously stated that Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour, had been present at her forced confessions in January 2019. Hassan Shemshadi was filmed visiting the solitary confinement cells where people arrested during the 2009 post-election protests were being held.

IranWire’s director Maziar Bahari was also arrested in 2009 while he was reporting for Newsweek magazine. He said after his release that Hamid Reza Emadi, the director of the newsroom of the Press TV, IRIB’s international English-language network, was present and involved in obtaining forced confessions from him while he was in prison.

The tasks and activities of these reporter-interrogators are defined and set out by a team of security officers. In May 2017, a TV interview with six young people who had been arrested after appearing in a video dancing to the song "Happy" showed an IRIB reporter asking them questions in rude manner, clearly trying to humiliate them.

At the time, a source who knew the defendants told the Human Rights Campaign in Iran organization that a news team from the IRIB had prepared a report on the detainees.

During the preparation of the report, when some of the detainees avoided repeating the words the interrogators told them to say, the IRIB correspondent reprimanded them and asked the interrogator to intimidate the detainees and make sure they stated that they had “been deceived” into behaving the way they had. The IRIB reporter's relationship with the interrogator and his dissatisfaction with some of the answers surprised the detainees.

In addition, in May 2019 there was the sudden and questionable presence of Davoud Fathali-Zadeh, an IRIB reporter who appeared at the police station to talk to Mohammad Ali Najafi, the former mayor of Tehran, a few hours after he was arrested for killing his wife.

The trend of reporter-interrogators seem to be on the rise, and they appear to have no problem with their dubious role being made public, or with their names being linked to the activities of the Revolutionary Guards and other agents. As Ali Rezvani’s latest “interview” shows, the Islamic Republic is perfectly comfortable in revealing the link between judicial “process” and propaganda.



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