Iran’s authorities have used crude propaganda tactics to dehumanise death penalty victims in the eyes of the public and divert attention away from the deeply flawed trials that led to their death sentences, said Amnesty International in a new report published today.
Broadcasting injustice, boasting of mass killing highlights how the Iranian authorities embarked on a media campaign following the mass execution of 25 Sunni men accused of involvement in an armed group on 2 August 2016, by flooding state-controlled media outlets with numerous videos featuring forced “confessions” in an attempt to justify the executions.
“By parading death row prisoners on national TV, the authorities are blatantly attempting to convince the public of their ‘guilt’, but they cannot mask the disturbing truth that the executed men were convicted of vague and broadly defined offences and sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials. Iran’s authorities have a duty to bring to justice individuals who carry out armed attacks killing civilians. However, there is never any excuse for extracting forced ‘confessions’ through torture or other ill-treatment and broadcasting them in chilling videos. This is a serious violation of prisoners’ rights and denies them and their families human dignity,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.
The stage-managed “confession” videos have sensationalist headlines such as In the Devil’s hands (Dar dast-e Sheytan) and In the depth of darkness (Dar omgh-e tariki) and melodramatic musical backing tracks. In some of the videos, the scenes have been interposed with film trailer style captions such as “to be continued” or “coming soon” to heighten their dramatic effect.
In messages recorded inside prison and posted online using a clandestine mobile phone many of the men said that they were forced to give “confessions” on camera after suffering months of torture in Ministry of Intelligence detention centres where they were held in prolonged solitary confinement. They described being kicked, punched, beaten with electric batons, flogged, deprived of sleep and denied access to food and medication.
“I felt I had no options left… I could not bear any more abuse and torture… They [intelligence officials] took me before a camera and told me that my case would be closed and they would release me if I stated what they told me to,” said Mokhtar Rahimi, one of those later executed, adding that the statements he made were then used to convict him.
Another man, Kaveh Sharifi, said he was told to memorise six pages of written text prepared by the Ministry of Intelligence:
“I practised for almost two hours a day until I had the information completely memorised… They even told me how I should move my hands and keep a happy face so that no one would suspect I was held in solitary confinement or ill-treated.”
As well as releasing propaganda videos, the Iranian authorities also issued a series of inflammatory statements similarly describing the executed men as heinous criminals deserving the punishment they received. As with the video “confessions”, the statements provide a skewed description of events and undermine the dignity and reputations of the men featured. They attribute to the men collectively a wide range of criminal activities and do not clarify what involvement each of them had in the reported incidents.
Those featured in the “confession” videos include Kaveh Sharifi, Kaveh Veysee, Shahram Ahmadi and Edris Nemati, who were among the 25 men executed on 2 August 2016. Loghman Amini, Bashir Shahnazari, Saman Mohammadi and Shouresh Alimoradi, four Sunni men who have been held in a Ministry of Intelligence detention centre in Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province since their arrests, are also featured prominently.
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran is legally obliged to prohibit, prevent and punish torture, refrain from admitting “confessions” obtained by torture as evidence and ensure a fair trial for all those accused of a crime. Given the irreversible nature of the death penalty, it is even more crucial that in such cases international fair trial safeguards are strictly observed.
The videos were produced and broadcast by different state-associated media outlets, including Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Press TV and an organisation called Habilian Association. Any state-controlled bodies involved in the production of the “confession” videos share responsibility for the human rights violations committed against the men featured in their productions and their families.
Three months after the mass execution, the Iranian authorities have failed to provide information about the precise criminal activities that each of the executed men had been charged with and convicted of. This violates Iran’s obligations under international human rights law to issue public judgements in all criminal cases, making clear the evidence and legal reasoning relied upon for the conviction.
“The Iranian authorities must immediately stop producing and broadcasting ‘confessions’ extracted through torture and other ill-treatment. They must also lift the veil of secrecy around trial proceedings and ensure that courts issue well-reasoned judgements, which are made available to the public,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Amnesty International calls on the Iranian authorities to immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.