On Wednesday, December 9, the names of three Iranians accused of playing a key role in state-sponsored hostage-taking were read out by British parliamentarians as part of a drive to see them sanctioned in the UK. One of these names was Ali Rezvani.
Perhaps the man born Kambiz Rezvani Ghamishloo, an interrogator-journalist for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, was hoping that like his IRIB predecessor Esmail Fallah he would someday land himself a cushier assignment in London. If so, those hopes have now been dashed.
Fallah had been in Iran back in 2000, and facilitated the televised so-called confession of Ali Afshari, a jailed student activist. It was one of the earliest known forced confessions by political detainees to have aired on Iranian state TV: one of more than 350 to date, always dressed to look like an interview for TV. Fallah was sent to London on assignment but in November 2019, he made the headlines on announcing he would not return to Iran.
Forced confessions are a critical part of the Islamic Republic’s hostage-taking procedure. These broadcasts function both as straightforward propaganda targeting Iranians, and as a signal to the outside world: they give the judiciary a pretext on which to continue arbitrarily holding detainees for diplomatic or material leverage. In Iran, Rezvani’s name –later changed from the Persian “Kambiz” to the Arabic-sounding “Ali” – is known for his work as a presenter on the IRIB’s 20:30 program and the show Without Ceremony: and for being a mainstay of these sinister broadcasts.
The Rezvani family is originally from the village of Ghamishloo, Isfahan province: hence the suffix on Ali’s original name. According to friends, the TV star’s father had a stonecutting business in Tehran, and the family were neither religious nor typical supporters of the Islamic Republic.
A number of Rezvani’s relatives were employees of the IRIB, though. It was through them that he secured his first role there, as a sports reporter working between the Tehran headquarters and satellite offices in other cities. According to some reports, Rezvani’s formal education runs only as far as a high school diploma. But because of his family connections, he quickly rose up through the ranks to become first reporter, then producer and program host.
Rezvani himself has said he was born in 1984 in the neighborhood of Chizar, northern Tehran. He claims to have a BA in communications, and that his first role at the IRIB was in fact as announcer of a short program in 2006, having started there at the tender age of 20 after a stint at the Young Journalists Club. Rezvani also says he is a kung fu practitioner, and holder of some national titles.
What first brought Rezvani to fame was the sports show Ringside, part of the national 20:30 News program. His mocking of sports teams on this show drew criticism from fans, as well as other media workers.
From there, Rezvani became the host Without Ceremony: a TV show airing interviews mostly with officials of the Islamic Republic. In two separate episodes both General Ghasem Soleimani, the former commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, and Mohsen Qara'ati, a well-known Shia clergyman, jokingly asked Rezvani why he was not married. These jokes helped endear him to the public. Later, in another interview after Soleimani’s assassination, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC Aerospace Force, answered questions about the IRGC’s January 2020 missile attack on the US’s Ayn al-Asad airbase – then joked with Rezvani, asking him why he had not followed Soleimani’s advice to marry.
The Usual Suspects
At the height of his fame, Rezvani started appearing in programs made by the security agencies. These included broadcasts featuring forced confessions by political prisoners. The scenario and every detail of these programs are decided by these agencies.
In 2018, he had a hand in making so-called documentary The Usual Suspects: one of the Iranian state’s single oddest propaganda works. It featured Kavous Seyed-Emami: a renowned Iranian sociologist, university professor and environmentalist, who had died in Evin Prison in suspicious circumstances in February 2018, less than a month after his arrest.
On the night of June 25, security agents forced their way into Seyed-Emami’s family home. Arash Kaykhosravi, the bereaved relatives’ legal counsel, rushed over while the officers were still inside, but was barred from entering. When he asked why they were there, he was told: “We’ve got a permit from the prosecutor to come here and make a film.”
Maryam Mombini, Kavous Seyed-Emami’s widow, had gone into shock and been rushed to hospital when officers – who it transpired were from the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization – descended on their home. Seyed-Emami’s son Ramin later told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI): “One of the more than 30 IRGC agents who raided our home in Tehran in June 2018... is a ‘reporter’ on that IRIB program. He interrogated my mother in front of a camera in our house. My mother recognized him as soon as the program came on. He’d wanted my mother to say my father was a spy.”
The resultant “documentary” also spread misinformation on eight detained environmental activists whose case has made headlines both inside and outside Iran. It sought to lay out the legal “justification” for their lengthy prison sentences. In the end, The Usual Suspects was broadcast in November 2018 – but went off air just a few minutes later due to what the IRIB described as “technical defects”.
Accessory to Abduction and Extrajudicial Killing
One most high-profile episodes of Rezvani’s TV career came in July 2020, when kidnapped journalist Ruhollah Zam appeared on Without Ceremony. Zam, who had been lured to Baghdad from Paris and then snatched by IRGC agents at the airport, had already been sentenced to death in his country of birth. Up until that time he had not been allowed to speak to anybody, including members of his own family. Looking dazed and disorientated, Zam was coaxed into “confessing” to his opposition to the Islamic Republic while Rezvani ridiculed him. The father-of-two was executed in December 2020.
Rezvani has “interviewed” a number of people presented as agents of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. He has claimed that his confrontational style with “guests” is the result of how much he cares about the interests of his country and its people. He has bragged that when he met the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic face to face, he asked Khamenei for the ring on his finger as a memento – and Khamenei granted his wish.