Iran’s authorities have used crude propaganda tactics to dehumanize 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,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“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.”
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 memorize 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 memorized… 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.