The Iranian government has broadcasted the so-called "confessions" of two Iranian-American citizens, both scholars, who have been held for months in solitary confinement in Evin prison. Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh were shown on Iranian state television describing their non-governmental organization work, which is seemingly linked to a plan for unseating the radical clerical regime. Now Iranian state radio has announced that an unspecified number of Iranians, somehow "related" to the detained Americans, have been arrested as well.
The harsh treatment of Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh highlights a disturbing trend by Iranian authorities of harassing those who it views as a threat to the regime, whether or not their work is meant to defend human rights or improve dialogue between nations. Over the past several months, Iranian officials have arrested students, threatened women activists with flogging, sentenced journalists to death, and beaten and imprisoned at least one labor leader. In addition, a number of executions, including one by stoning, has increased since last year.
Roya Boroumand, executive director of the private, Washington-based Boroumand Foundation for the Promotion of Human Rights and Democracy in Iran, says parading political prisoners on television and broadcasting alleged confessions made under duress are nothing new for Iran's clerical regime:
"This is a practice that goes back to the inception of the Islamic Republic, where critics of the government or people whose agenda did not specifically match the ones of the government, be they revolutionary, or monarchists, or secularists, or whatever, this treatment was given to them so that they stop associating and they stop speaking up."
Ms. Boroumand says the diverse groups of Iranians now under attack -- students, labor leaders, civil society workers, and women's rights activists -- have something in common. All these people, she says, "are trying to have some sort of associative life outside of the government":
"These are horizontal movements that have no particular allegiance to the government and are worried about their own rights, the right to associate and the rights associated [with] their work, or their future, or their studies, and they have found solidarity. . . .outside Iran, horizontally, not with states, but with their peers, and the government cannot tolerate that."
In a written statement, U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack called on the Iranian government "to improve its human rights situation before more Iranians suffer for attempting to exercise their universal rights and freedoms."