Iran denies US-Iranians coerced into talking

Iran on Sunday denied it forced two US-Iranians detained for harming national security into making televised statements, saying their comfortable surroundings showed the comments were genuine.
Tehran has said the interviews with Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, who were arrested in May, have exposed a US plot to overthrow Iran’s Islamic authorities through a peaceful “soft revolution.”
“For those who say that the statements were made under pressure, their appearance shows that they were natural comments,” government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.
No mention was made in the programme that the two academics are currently jailed or face grave charges of harming national security.
Instead, both were shown in comfortable rooms equipped with potted plants, carpets and, in Esfandiari’s interview, a fridge. The surroundings bore absolutely no resemblance to prison cells.
This was to show that “we are not the kind who use violence with our enemies and opponents. Giving the accused a hard time and pressuring them is not our policy,” Elham said.
Elham also recalled Iran’s treatment of the 15 British sailors detained in March, who were shown on television relaxing in tracksuits, browsing through brochures and playing table tennis.
“A humane, non-violent, behaviour with the accused is part of neutralising psychological warfare,” said Elham.
The US State Department and New York-based Human Rights Watch had expressed concern that coercion was used to force the detainees to make the statements.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini also defended the broadcast, saying the programme had shown up US efforts to destabilise Iran.
“The United States has always had overthrowing goals and the detainees’ recent confessions aired on television are an indication of a long-term plan and extensive efforts,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.
However one reformist Iranian newspaper broke ranks on Saturday to criticise the interviews.
“We must accept that the era of televised confessions is over,” said the Hambastegi (Unity) daily.
“If these people are spies then why are the ones who gave them classified information not introduced and detained?
“Would it not be better if the national media introduced these people as opponents of the Islamic republic after their intentions to oppose and overthrow have been proven in court?” it asked.
The programme, broadcast on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, sought to draw parallels between the case of Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh and the uprisings against governments in Georgia and Ukraine.
Iran has repeatedly protested that the United States has been seeking to spark a “Velvet Revolution” in Iran under the guise of initiatives to promote democracy.
Elham said the case remained entirely in the hands of the judiciary.
“Questions concerning the type of crime and whether it is compatible with espionage are a technical and legal matter related to the judiciary,” he said.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2007