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Special Features

The Unbearable Absurdity of the New Round of Forced Confessions in Iran

December 5, 2019
Shima Shahrabi
5 min read
The Unbearable Absurdity of the New Round of Forced Confessions in Iran

Hours after President Hassan Rouhani announced that confessions of people taking part in the recent protests would be shown on national television, the website Mashhad Sobh-e Toos published the first part of a documentary about the confessions of those arrested in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city.

“You will see in the confessions that they had been planning for more than two years for the riots,” Rouhani told the 26th National Conference on Insurance and Development on Wednesday, December 4. “They were thinking about [protesting] during the last days of Dey [January and February], as we approach the elections, but their masters from overseas said now was the time. These people should be dealt with.”

The president announced the establishment of a three-member delegation to investigate the deaths of protesters and to assess the prison conditions of those still detained. The delegation is to be comprised of the president’s legal deputy, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Interior. Hours after Rouhani's speech, the confession of one Mashhad detainee was broadcast as part of a documentary called “Night on the Highway,” featuring confessions by Mashhad detainees. The face of the individual admitting his part in the protests was blurred, but he said, in a young-sounding voice,"We were thinking about protesting, but it was really a riot; we were overwhelmed by the events and didn't know what to do."

The Mashhad detainee said that a woman in a red leather jacket led the protests in Mashhad: "A few women stopped the cars. A woman in a red leather jacket blocked the way. The slogans were always started by that woman. I saw her in the middle of the crowd, not letting the cars move or the ambulance through.”

Rouhani’s announcement and the Mashhad Sobh-e Toos website documentary are part of a new round of public confessions – most likely under duress – in the wake of the protests that erupted after the hike in gas prices. It also signals a new trend of accusing women protesters for the unrest.

A program broadcast on November 21 presented women as the provocateurs and leaders of the protests. The 20:30 television program has become famous for broadcasting forced confessions and for its support for the Islamic Republic’s security forces. As part of its recent programming, it introduced a woman called Fatemeh Dodvand as the leader of the protests in Bukan in West Azerbaijan province who was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents. Reports sent to IranWire confirm that Fatemeh Dodvand was injured during protests and was then arrested by intelligence forces.


Thugs, Drug Addicts, People with Mental Problems

Another person who made a "Night on the Highway" confession said he found out about the protests in Mashhad via Instagram. “On Instagram they said the Mashhad protests would be in Vakilabad Boulevard at 8pm. Now I think, why do the protests have to be at night and in a public space? It’s because people like me become overwhelmed and continue the protest – while they use the darkness of the night to escape. Only people like me fall victim.”

During his confession, he repeatedly talks about being a victim and getting caught, and emphasizes the point that people wanting to cause maximum unrest hijacked the protests, a popular refrain adopted by Islamic Republic authorities from the first day of protests, which began on November 15, and spread across Iran on November 16. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has referred to the protesters as “thugs” and other officials followed suit, calling protesters “thugs” or “insurgents.”

In another part of his confession, the Mashhad detainee states that he is addicted to tramadol, and that on the night he took part in the protests, he had overdosed: "I've been taking one tramadol a day for three years. That day I had taken three.” Addiction, psychological issues, and family problems have been a regular theme of forced confession scenarios for a long time. Islamic Republic authorities like to portray their opponents as people with emotional and psychological issues.

This also chimes with claims from the Islamic Guidance Patrol dealing with the so-called "bad hijab" phenomenon – women harassed and arrested for not wearing the Islamic headscarf in line with the patrol's rules. The unit has asked women in detention: Have you ever drunk alcohol? Are you a child of a divorce? Are you suffering from mental problems?”

The final part of the “Night on the Highway” documentary ends with the words: “I never thought I would be treated so respectfully as an accused," along with the suggestion that the detainee knew he was guilty of a crime.


Has the Recent History of Forced Confessions Been Forgotten? 

Islamic Republic authorities have forced political prisoners to confess for years. But a few months ago, defendants in the fake nuclear assassination case – when at least 18 people were falsely accused of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists between 2010 and 2012 – talked to the media about their confessions, which were taken under torture and coercion. The Iranian public was gripped by the revelations. Following statements made by one of the defendants in the case, Mazyar Ebrahimi, Mahmoud Sadeghi, a member of parliament for Tehran, presented a bill to the parliament calling for a ban on "the recording and broadcasting of personal confessions."

However, since the November protests, Islamic Republic authorities have repeatedly spoken out about the confessions of protesters – who they have labeled “agitators.” Commander Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, has announced that he had ordered the arrest of people who had been planning to leave the country after the recent protests, and said that their "confessions" would soon be broadcast on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. 

Prior to this, the Minister of Interior, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, admitted on TV that the recent protests had been large in scale; he too called for the broadcast of the detainees' televised confessions. That was followed by comments made by the president himself, making it clear that it was not just the Guards that sought punishment for the protesters. Rouhani’s statement that those who had organized the protests confessed that they were being led by people from outside the country, and that those outsiders had determined the timing of the protests, has given credence to a narrative that other officials had been pushing since the protests began.

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