DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranian state television has broadcast the suspected coerced confessions of at least 355 people over the last decade as a means to both suppress dissent and frighten activists in the Islamic Republic on behalf of security services, according to a report released Thursday.
The study published by Justice for Iran and the International Federation for Human Rights outlined cases of prisoners being coached into reading from white boards, with state television correspondents ordering them to repeat the lines while smiling.
Others recounted being beaten, threatened with sexual violence and having their loved ones used against them to extract false testimonies later aired on news bulletins, magazine-style shows and programs masquerading as documentaries, the report said.
The number of those filmed likely is even higher as some say their coerced confessions have yet to air, while others may not have been immediately accessible to researchers, said Mohammad Nayyeri, co-director of Justice for Iran.
"They always live with that fear of when it's going to happen," Nayyeri told the Associated Press. "So that fear itself in those cases is not less than the fear and the anguish and pain of those whose confessions have been broadcast."
Emails sent to Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the state television and radio firm, could not be delivered. Iran's mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
Under Iranian law, only the state can own and operate television and radio stations. Satellite dishes, though prevalent across Tehran, remain illegal. YouTube and other Western video streaming services are blocked. That leaves many watching IRIB across its multiple national and provincial stations.
While state TV channels remain a major force across much of the Mideast, IRIB particularly appears influenced by state security agencies like Iran's Intelligence Ministry, its military and the intelligence arm of the country's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
"IRIB operates as a media hub that links a vast network of security, intelligence, military and judicial organizations," the report said. "IRIB is not simply a media organization and by no means an independent one, but rather an organ of state suppression that uses the tools of mass communication."
That translates to a focus on Iranian military production and exercises to airing confessions long criticized by Europe and the U.S., as well as human rights groups.
Washington sanctioned a bank supporting IRIB in November 2018 and later its director, Abdulali Ali-Asgari. The U.S. Treasury said IRIB "routinely broadcasts false news reports and propaganda, including forced confessions of political detainees." U.S. prosecutors even allege an IRIB staffer recruited a former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst for the Guard.
However, sanctions on IRIB itself have been waived every six months since being imposed by the Obama administration in 2013, in part over what the State Department has described as "Iran's commitment to ensure that harmful satellite interference does not emanate from its territory."