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  • The forced confession of Ali Abtahi

    Reza Afshari Review of Ervand Avramian’s book tortured confessions- human rights quarterly 2002 The New York TimesOpinionForced Confessions in Iran’s House of the Dead By Ervand Abrahamian Feb. 22, 2018 “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons ,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in “The House of the Dead,” his semi-autobiographical […]

The forced confession of Ali Abtahi

Reza Afshari Review

of Ervand Avramian’s book

tortured confessions-

human rights quarterly 2002

The New York Times
Forced Confessions in

Iran’s House of the Dead

By Ervand Abrahamian

Feb. 22, 2018

“The degree of civilization in a society

can be judged by entering its prisons

,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in

“The House of the Dead,”

his semi-autobiographical novel

about inmates in a Siberian prison camp.

Iran continues

to fail the Dostoyevsky test.

The increasingly common

“suicides” by prisoners

stem from Iran’s inordinate reliance on

“confessions” in convicting defendants.

Iranian judges treat “confessions”

as the “proof of proofs,”

the “mother of proofs

” and the “best evidence of guilt.

” The use of forced confessions began

in the last years of the shah’s rule,

in the 1970s, but drastically increased

after the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

regarded them as the highest proof of guilt.

I analyzed numerous legal cases

and around 300 prison memoirs

for a book about forced confessions

. To obtain such “confessions,”

interrogators in Iran rely heavily

on psychological and physical pressures

. They — like fellow interrogators elsewhere —

scrupulously avoid the word torture

(“shekanjeh” in Persian).

In fact,

the Iranian Constitution explicitly outlaws shekanjeh.

Instead, interrogators describe what they do as

“ta’zir” (punishment)

. Innumerable prison memoirs detail this process.

It can be described as Iran’s version of “

enhanced interrogation.”

Prisoners are asked a question,

and if their answer is unsatisfactory,

they are sentenced

to a specific number of lashings

on the ground that they had lied.

These whippings can continue

until the desired answer is given

— and committed to paper.

According to a letter circulated

by some 40 members of Parliament

, hallucinatory drugs now supplement

these traditional methods.

In the 1980s and the 1990s,

detainees were routinely shown on

television reading their confessions

, but the broadcasts were mostly

stopped after

most Iranians concluded that they were staged.

The confessions continue to be used in court, however.

Detainees have a limited number of options

in the face of interrogation.

They can submit,

even before the instruments of

enhanced interrogation are displayed.

They can undergo prolonged agony,

which may lead to death,

if inadvertently

— interrogators want a confession,

not a badly damaged corpse

, which can cause political embarrassment.

The detainees can accept a plea bargain and “admit”

to a lesser transgression in return

for release or a lighter sentence.

After the disputed presidential elections in 2009

in which the right-wing populist

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

prevailed over reformist opponents

, many

— including visitors from abroad —

gave “exclusive” interviews to the regime press

 confessing to sundry transgressions,

especially helping foreign powers conspiring

to bring about “regime change.”

Detainees have also agreed to public confessions

and tried to insert phrases that

undermined the whole ritual.

A prisoner — later executed —

declared in 1983

that he had been recruited into the K.G.B.

, the Soviet intelligence agency

upon his arrival in Russia in 1951.

He would have been aware

that anyone versed

in the topic would know the K.G.B.

was created three years later, in 1954.

A former Khomeini follower

said in his public confession in 1987

that he had resorted

to black magic and the occult

to spread cancerous cells

among clerical leaders he opposed.

In 1984, leaders of the Communist Tudeh


who had been arrested

after criticizing Iran’s war with Iraq

, vociferously thanked

their “

benevolent guards”

for “opening their eyes,

” providing them with books

that debunked

their previous ideology,

and transforming prisons

into “universities”

and “educational institutions.”

One stressed that the prison wardens

had given them

“shalaqha-e haqayeq,”

or lashes of truth.

They confessed to

“high treason”

for adopting alien ideologies

failing to study properly the

history of their country.

They also held themselves

“personally responsible”

for “treasonable mistakes

” made by the left in the distant past,

such as during the

constitutional revolution of 1906,

which took place long before

they were born.

Earlier reformers,

led by

President Mohammad Khatami,

tried between 1997

and 2005 to pass legislation to prevent

 the use of torture in prison.

But such attempts were swept away with

the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005.

President Rouhani

, now embarrassed

by the arrest of his environmentalist allies,

is eager to channel the concerns of reformers

about the use of torture.

He has supported the 40 deputies

who have protested prison “suicides”

and has set up a committee to investigate the death

of Dr. Seyed Emami.

Time will show whether this committee has any teeth.


Following the broadcast of reformist leader

Ali Abtahi

during the summer of 2009-

it was said that the confession was obtained by tortur

e as part of the Iranian regime efforts

to discredit the opposition.

Watch Me Confess!

Ebrahim Nabavi Mocks Confessions

Mohammad Ali Abtahi 

is one of Iran’s most lovable clerics,

also known as the “blogging mullah”.

You can get to

know him by watching his appearance

on The Daily Show

. When he was arrested,

many people predicted

that he would be forced

to make false confessions

under physical and / or psychological torture.

This prediction recently came true.

But before it did,

famous Iranian comedian

and satirist

Ebrahim Nabavi posted

a video on YouTube imagining

what Abtahi’s confession

might look like.

Here is the English translation.
It is worth noting that Nabavi himself

was once arrested and forced to confess.

He soon fled the country and announced

that the confession was by force.

As you can see,

Nabavi had a lot of fun with this clip

and you can too 
I Confess – A Tribute to Mohammadreza JalaeipourIn “
The Confessions of Grannie4peaceIn

A Tweeter Posts Her ConfessionsIn “#iranElection” |

Ali Abtahi

Mohammad-Ali Abtahi

His name in Persian:

محمدعلی ابطحی‎;

born January 27, 1958)

is an Iranian theologian, scholar,

pro-democracy activist

chairman of

the Institute for

Interreligious Dialogue.

He is a former Vice President of Iran

and a close associate of

former President Mohammad Khatami.

Abtahi is a member

of the central council of Association

of Combatant Clerics

 (Majma’e Rowhaniyoon-e Mobarez)

, the political grouping to which both Khatami

and the 2009 presidential candidate

 Mehdi Karroubi

 (the previous Speaker of Majlis of Iran) belong.

Vice President of Iran for Legal

and Parliamentary AffairsIn office


President Mohammad Khatami

Preceded by

Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari

Succeeded by

Majid Ansari

Chief of Staff of

the President of IranIn office
1997–2001 President

Mohammad Khatami Succeeded by

Ali Khatami Personal details

BornSeptember 29, 1958 (age 61)
Mashhad,  Iran Political party

Association of Combatant Clerics

Alma materIsfahan University

 (B.A. in Western Philosophy)
University of Tehran

 (M.A. in education)

Website www.webneveshteha.ir

Political career
Abtahi served in various governmental posts,

including the President of Iranian Radio,

Vice Minister of International Affairs

in the Ministry of Culture

and Islamic Guidance,

and IRIB’s representative in Lebanon.
Khatami’s Government
In 1997,

 President of Iran

 Mohammad Khatami

chose Abtahi

as his first chief of staff.


held the position from

July 10, 1997

to September 1, 2001
On September 2, 2001


was elevated

to the post of the

Iranian Vice President for Legal

and Parliamentary Affairs.

He was the first cabinet member in Iran

to write a weblog 

or have an Orkut account

during his membership

in the cabinet.

He resigned from his post

three times

after the

 Iranian Majlis election of 2004,

because of “

differences in political viewpoints

with the parliament’s majority”,

finally, on October 12, 2004, 

his resignation was accepted

by President Khatami.

He was followed by Majid Ansari,

a previous representative of Tehran 

to the Parliament

and a fellow member

of the Combatant Clerics Society party.

The Daily Show appearance

Seyyed Abtahi appeared

on The Daily Show with John Stewart in 2009,

interviewed by Jason Jones.[1]

 Abtahi is often called the

“blogging mullah”

along with Mehdi Karroubi who is referred

to as the iron “shaykh of reforms”

Seyyed Abtahi is active in the blogosphere and

is the first member of an Iranian cabinet

to keep a personal blog.

Arrests and confession

Abtahi’s father, 

Ayatollah Hassan Abtahi

is the author of

several controversial books about

 Imam Mahdi.[2]

 Seyyed Hassan’s

ultra-conservative religious

and political views are very different

from Mohammad Ali’s,

who is a liberal cleric.

Seyyed Hassan

was arrested recently for

“suspicious organised activities”.

Mohammad Ali

discussed this in a post

to his blog titled 

Why don’t I write about

my father and brother’s arrest?.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi

was arrested on June 16, 2009

during the aftermath

of the 2009 presidential elections

 and subsequent protests.[3] 

He reportedly made

a videotaped confession

following his arrest,

[4] in which he stated

that the opposition’s claims

of a stolen election were false

, and that opposition leaders

had conspired

in advance to misrepresent the vote.[5]

According to the statement,

former presidents,

Mohammad Khatami

and Rafsanjani 

had taken an oath not to abandon

each other in their support

for former prime minister 

Mir-Hossein Mousavi 

as they prepared

to stage a Velvet Revolution 

in order to avenge

their defeat in 2005

Iranian presidential election.[6] 

According to human rights groups,

similar confessions

by Iranian political prisoners

are almost always obtained under duress.[5]
In response members of his

and other arrested reformists

gathered at his home issued

a statement

denouncing his confession,

“not only do we not accept

the confession,

we also know that Abtahi

said these things due to

a long period of imprisonment

for the purpose of

obtaining a confession.”

In a court hearing,

his wife Fahimeh Mousavinejad,

dismissed her husband’s confession

as false and

“not at all in Mr. Abtahi’s style. .

.. As his family,

we know the way he expresses himself.

Many people have read his blog.

The sentences

he was using were not his own”.[5]
Abtahi’s photos from the trial

show signs of probable use of torture 

during his imprisonment

.Following Abtahi’s record as

the first Iranian cabinet member

to blog while in office,

on August 26, 2009,

he also became

the first known Iranian prisoner

to blog while still at prison

.A few days after that prison blog entry

, however,

his website was suddenly taken offline.
In November 2009

, he was sentenced to six years in jail

for the alleged intention

to topple the government.[9] 

He has since been freed.

Personal life

Mohammad Ali Abtahi was

born in Mashhad

. He is married to

 Fahimeh Mousavinezhad 

(daughter of one of his professors)

and has three daughters,

named Faezeh, Fatemeh, and Farideh.

He is also the nephew of

 Abdolkarim Hasheminezhad.

Health issues

On 14 October 2013,

Abtahi was hospitalized in Milad Hospital 

after he suffered a brain attack.

Hours later

, Abtahi’s personal doctor confirmed that Abtahi’s health was good.[11]
Content is available under CC BY-SA 3.0 unless otherwise noted.

Forced Prisoner Confessions Haunt Islamic Republic As Questions, Trial Loom

satire- reformist trials facebook
watch me confess

The following was originally posted here:
A twitter user Talkoholic

, has announced her confessions

to the Iranian state media

and posted them on YouTube.
This “common revolutionary greenie girl”

as she likes to be known as,

tells us that she was inspired to

make the confession after reading 

Iran_Translator‘s Green Brief #46.

She hates it when some people

try to control other people’s minds

and recommends this book chapter

by Dr. Robert J. Lifton to everyone.

 This video has also been posted on Iranian.com 

and has received some comments there too.

center for human rights in iran

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2 responses to “The forced confession of Ali Abtahi”

  1. […] על כך שההודאה נגבתה ממנה בכפייה במהלך המשפט […]

  2. […] obtain such “confessions,” interrogators in Iran rely heavily on psychological and physical pressures. Like fellow […]

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