March 7, 2020 | Press Release

Torture TV: New FDD Report Makes the Case for Sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s State-Run Media

New Report Chronicles State TV’s Forced Confessions
March 7, 2020 | Press Release

Torture TV: New FDD Report Makes the Case for Sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s State-Run Media

New Report Chronicles State TV’s Forced Confessions

Washington D.C., February 27 – Iran state television should earn new global sanctions for its role in the torture and forced confessions of political prisoners, according to a new report from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

Torture TV: The Case for Sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s State-Run Media,” highlights Tehran’s violations of international law by televising forced confessions of political prisoners.

The publication, co-authored by FDD Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Strategy Toby Dershowitz and Government Relations Analyst Talia Katz, is the most comprehensive report on Iran’s forced confessions practice since Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) transitioned to new leadership in 2016.

“Torture TV” comes in the wake of deadly nationwide protests, during which the Iranian regime arrested protestors and forced them to confess to falsehoods on Iran state television. Amid the violent crackdown, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli publicly called for televised confessions.

The report demonstrates how the Islamic Republic employs forced confessions “to frame the innocent, scare its citizens into submission, and propagandize against its enemies.” The authors argue that the “practice of extracting forced confessions should earn [Iran state media] sanctions worldwide.”

Dershowitz and Katz also detail how interrogators working with IRIB use a range of torture techniques to extract forced confessions from political prisoners. These include “beat[ing] prisoners with cables, sometimes to the point of paralysis; hold[ing] prisoners in solitary confinement for years; or threaten[ing] forced injections of hallucinogenic drugs.” The report shows that some “reporters” on state-run news programs are actually IRGC and Ministry of Intelligence interrogators who extracted the forced confessions.

They add that, “Imposing sanctions on IRIB, its leadership, and other facilitators of forced confessions would follow an established precedent.” The report lists designations imposed by the United States, European Union, and Canada nearly a decade ago. However, “IRIB’s leadership has changed since these designations,” and these new officials “continue to work with the clerical regime’s judicial system and intelligence community to extract and broadcast false confessions.”

The authors chronicle eight case studies of forced confessions since May 2016, when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed a new director general of IRIB, and one additional case study that began before 2016. The case studies “capture a representative sample of the regime’s targets: dual nationals, non-citizens, members of religious minority groups, and political activists.” Each study details the victims’ backgrounds, their arrests and trials, their treatments in prison, and their broadcasted false confession.

Mark Dubowitz, CEO of FDD and head of its Iran program, commented that, “Iran’s victims of coerced false confessions have spanned the spectrum of Iranian society and has generated calls from across the Iranian diaspora for meaningful action.” He continued, “This report provides policymakers from around the globe the tools needed to hold Iran accountable for its malign human rights abuses with the goal of the Islamic Republic ending its illegal and inhumane practice.”

The report notes that “Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian dissident and human rights lawyer whose own husband was a victim of forced confession in 2009, asserts that targeting IRIB would cripple Tehran’s ability to spread propaganda and attack or intimidate dissidents.” She called on Western satellite providers to refuse to air IRIB channels outside of Iran’s borders.

The report offers policy recommendations especially for the United States, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom. These recommendations include fresh sanctions on new leaders of the Iranian state media machine, halting the sales of audiovisual equipment, and working with satellite companies to terminate services to IRIB.


The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is a Washington, DC-based non-partisan research institute focusing on foreign policy and national security. Visit our website at and connect with us on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.


To address the threat posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran to America and its allies, FDD conducts detailed research, develops actionable and comprehensive policy options, and appears regularly in media. FDD’s Iran team covers a wide swath of issues in the Iran portfolio and includes some of Washington’s top experts on sanctions, illicit finance, nonproliferation, terrorism, human rights, and the Islamist regime of Iran’s domestic power apparatus.


FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP) studies national economic security, with a focus on how the U.S. can leverage its economic and financial power to achieve its national security objectives. Experts at CEFP track and analyze changes in the international economy and how allies and rivals are adapting to these developments. CEFP also promotes greater understanding of how the U.S. government can employ its economic and financial authorities to best counter its adversaries.


Iran Iran Human Rights Iran Politics and Economy Iran Sanctions