In an interview last week with Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi urged the Trump administration to sanction the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Tehran’s state-run media corporation. President Trump should heed this call by designating the IRIB pursuant to Executive Order 13628. The conglomerate not only serves as a major propaganda organ for the clerical regime, but also routinely facilitates Tehran’s violations of international law and norms – as well as Iran’s own statutes – by airing the forced confessions of political prisoners.
In a report released posthumously in March, the late Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, affirmed that the broadcast of coerced confessions, which Tehran often elicits through torture, still persists. “Consistent reports received suggest a pattern of physical or mental pressure applied upon prisoners to coerce confessions, some of which are broadcast,” she wrote.
Jahangir noted that Tehran has even aired the coerced confession of a Chinese-American graduate student, Xiyue Wang, whom the regime arrested in 2016 on spurious espionage charges and subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison. Other prisoners, though, have met worse fates. A February report by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, observed that Iranian courts “can and do issue death sentences on the sole basis of confessions.”
Tehran’s enforcement of Iranian law is selective. The Islamic Republic’s constitution, in addition to its requirement of fair trials, prohibits forced confessions and the use of torture to obtain them. In late 2016, President Hassan Rouhani released a Charter on Citizens’ Rights that reiterated these policies, hailing the importance of “competent and impartial judicial” authorities.
The application of forced confessions also violates international understandings that Iran has endorsed. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights forbids torture, which – in accordance with the Convention Against Torture’s definition of the term – includes coerced confessions. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights explicitly bans both torture and forced confessions.
Iran’s malign treatment of prisoners reflects its entrenched ideology. According to the constitution, the media “must serve the diffusion of Islamic culture in pursuit of the evolutionary course of the Islamic Revolution.” Similarly, they “must strictly refrain from diffusion and propagation of destructive and anti-Islamic practices.” The document stipulates that the power to appoint or dismiss the head of the IRIB rests with the supreme leader, Iran’s ultimate decision-maker.
In a 2015 speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the IRIB as a key weapon in “countering the soft war” waged against Iran by the West. Tehran’s adversaries, he argued, seek to use their own “biased” media outlets to “tamper with or change” Shiite Islam, thereby spurring the “internal dissolution and transmutation of the Islamic Republic.” Consequently, by airing forced confessions, the IRIB aims to defend not merely the regime’s Islamist worldview but also its very legitimacy.
For her part, Ebadi’s call for IRIB sanctions carries particular emotional resonance. One of the IRIB’s broadcasts, noted Bloomberg’s Lake, “featured her husband after he was set up in a Soviet-style sting and filmed with prostitutes drinking alcohol. While in Evin prison, Ebadi’s husband was flogged for drinking and threatened with death by stoning for adultery if he did not confess to the alleged illegal activities of his famous wife. ‘My husband was forced to confirm the alleged veracity of all the charges they regularly bring against me,’ she said.”
Such episodes account in part for the multiple demonstrations that have unfolded in front of IRIB offices during the nationwide protests that began in late December. The Iranian people rightly recognize the IRIB as an agent of Iran’s repressive regime. Washington should act accordingly.
Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @TzviKahn.
Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.