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  • Forced confessions in Islamic Republic of Iran

    The New York TimesOpinion Forced Confessions in Iran’s House of the Dead By Ervand Abrahamian Published: February. 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 […]

Forced confessions in Islamic Republic of Iran

نيلوفر بياني

The New York Times
Opinion Forced Confessions in

Iran’s House of the Dead

By Ervand Abrahamian

Published: February. 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 excessive 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. Like fellow interrogators elsewhere, they carefully avoid the word torture (“shekanjeh” in Persian). 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 response is given — and committed to paper. According to the 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 mainly stopped after most Iranians concluded that they were staged. The admissions 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 Party 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 “halacha-e ha aye,” or lashes of truth.

They confessed to “high treason” for adopting alien ideologies and failing to study their country’s history properly.

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, l

ed 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.

Reza Afshari Review of Ervand Avramian’s book tortured confessions- human rights quarterly 2002


Following the broadcast of reformist leader Ali Abtahi during the summer of 2009- it was said that the confession was obtained by torture as part of the Iranian regime’s 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 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.

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. 

Forced confessions

Reformist trials- the case of Ali Abtahi

#iranelection 2009

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 the 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 affairs office

2001–2004: President Mohammad Khatami, Preceded by Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari, Succeeded by Majid Ansari, Chief of Staff of the President of Iran office
1997–2001 President Mohammad Khatami was Succeeded by Ali Khatami. Personal detailsBornSeptember 29, 1958 (age 61)
Mashhad,  Iran Political party Association of Combatant ClericsAlma materIsfahan University (B.A. in Western Philosophy)
University of Tehran  (M.A. in education) Website http://www.webneveshteha.ir

Political career

Abtahi served in various governmental posts,

including the President of Iranian Radio, the 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. Abtahi held the position from July 10, 1997, to September 1, 2001.[citation needed]
On September 2, 2001,[citation needed] Abtahi was elevated to the Iranian Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs post.

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 with  Jason Jones.

Abtahi ‘s followers often call him the “blogging mullah, along with Mehdi Karroubi (” 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.

Personal life

Mohammad Ali Abtahi was born in Mashhad,

married to Fahimeh Mousavinezhad (the 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, Milad Hospital treated Abtahi  after a brain attack.

Hours later, Abtahi’s doctor confirmed that Abtahi’s health was good.

Arrests and confession

Abtahi’s father, 

Ayatollah Hassan Abtahi is the author of several controversial books about Imam Mahdi.

Seyyed Hassan’s ultra-conservative religious and political views are very different from Mohammad Ali’s, a liberal cleric.

The Iranian regime arrested Seyyed Hassan recently for “suspicious organized activities.”

Mohammad Ali discussed this in a post to his blog titled 

Why don’t I write about my father and brother’s arrest?

The regime forces arrested Mohammad Ali Abtahi on June 16, 2009,

during the aftermath of the 2009 presidential elections and subsequent protest 

He reportedly made a videotaped confession following his arrest,

 stating that the opposition’s claims of a stolen election were false and that opposition leaders had conspired to misrepresent the vote

According to the statement,

former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Rafsanjani had sworn not to abandon each other in their support for former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi

 as they prepared to stage a Velvet Revolution to avenge their defeat in the 2005 Iranian presidential election

According to human rights groups, similar confessions by Iranian political prisoners are almost always obtained under duress

In response, members of his and other arrested reformists gathered at his home.

They issued a statement denouncing his confession, saying,

“Not only do we not accept the confession,

but we also know that Abtahi said these things due to a long period of imprisonment to obtain 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 how he expresses himself.

Many people have read his blog.

The sentences he was using were not his own

Abtahi’s photos from the trial show signs of the possible 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 in 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. Since then, the Iranian regime has freed him.

Content is available under CC BY-SA 3.0 unless otherwise noted.

Forced Prisoner Confessions Haunt Islamic Republic As Questions, Trial Loom

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  2. […] has caused concern among the people and families about the increase in arrests and forced TV confessions. # […]

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  4. […] about the increase in arrests and forced TV confessions. […]

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