A Message to Obama Based on False Televised Confessions
Intelligence authorities exploit claustrophobic detainee to coerce sham confession
(21 January 2009) The Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s purported uncovering of a CIA-backed “coup plot” is being used as a propaganda tool at the dawn of Obama’s presidency, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.
“Hard-line elements are using the alleged plot to seize the initiative in Iran-US relations in a period of tense maneuvering by both sides as Obama’s administration takes charge,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign’s spokesperson.
“The intelligence apparatus is claiming this is a message to the incoming Obama administration that it can uncover any American plots. But, in the process, the rights of physicians who have brought international respect to Iran’s AIDS programs and two other people are being ruthlessly abused,” he added.
On 20 January 2009, a high-ranking Iranian counter-intelligence official told the official Islamic Republic News Agency details of the prosecutor’s case against four Iranians, including Drs. Arash and Kamiar Alaei, accused of working on behalf of American agents to overthrow the state. “Those arrested in connection with this case were the main agents and network leaders who have deliberately and intentionally cooperated with U.S. intelligence agents and were doing whatever they wanted,” he was quoted as saying.
The intelligence official said that the evidence is based on the detainees’ “confessions,” which would soon be televised. He also claimed that the discovery of the plot should be a lesson for the Obama administration in formulating its Iran policy.
The Judiciary has confirmed that internationally renowned AIDS physicians, Drs. Arash and Kamiar Alaei have been sentenced to six and three years in prison respectively. The officials have not provided any clues as to the identity and sentences of the other two defendants.
The Campaign has learned that one of the defendants is Silva Harotonian, 33-year-old Iranian-Armenian woman, who worked for the international organization IREX on a project regarding birth methods in Iran. Intelligence agents detained Hartounian around 6 pm on 26 June 2008, the same day that Arash Alaei was detained.
After searching her house, the agents took her to the Esteghlal Hotel in Tehran for interrogations. They questioned her about her medical project and pressured her to admit it was a cover for politically motivated activities on behalf of the US government. Her refusal to admit to any such allegations led her two interrogators, who identified themselves as “Haj Agha,” and “the Doctor,” to transfer her to Evin Prison’s ward 209.
According to a former prisoner who spent days with Hartounian in ward 209, Hartounian suffers from acute claustrophobia. Upon learning of her imminent imprisonment, she suffered a severe panic attack at Hotel Esteghlal. Ignoring her medical condition, the agents transferred her to Evin prison and put her in solitary confinement in cell 25, which is reportedly extremely small and dark.
After ten days of solitary confinement, the interrogators exploited her illness by forcing her to read a prepared written statement, which was videotaped.
She reportedly “confessed” that the CIA and the Pentagon recruited and directed a group of medical experts led by Dr. Arash Alaei to foment unrest in Iran and “widen the gap between people and state.”
The Campaign believes that the videotaped, false confession is the prosecutor’s sole evidence against the Alaei brothers, Hartounian, and the other unnamed defendant.
On 21 January, the mother of Arash and Kamiar Alaei broke her silence and in an interview with Rooz Online, and said that when she visited her sons on 19 January, they were not aware of having been sentenced. She said that they had been held for 63 days in solitary confinement and she fears that they will be tortured to coerce false confessions on camera.
The basis of the allegations is the doctors’ participation in a high-level medical conference funded by the US State Department and organized by the Aspen Institute in Washington DC from 28-30 November 2006. They also recruited a dozen top Iranian medical experts for the event, which was highly scientific. Its sessions included topics such as “Pediatric Oncology and Child Health,” and “Infectious Diseases, including HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis.”
The Iranian government was fully aware of the program and its representatives attended some of the sessions. Iran’s Interest Section, its diplomatic representation in the United States, even held a dinner for the Iranian delegation during their stay in Washington D.C. It was provided with full details of the participation of Iranian physicians and researchers and the entire program was transparent.
“This is apparently a frame-up by the Intelligence Ministry. The government is accusing these experts of spying while it was completely informed of and supportive of their scientific activities on which the allegations are based,” Ghaemi said.
The Iranian Intelligence Ministry has often obtained false coerced confessions from detainees that have been televised and used for propaganda purposes. In many of such instances, the former detainees refuted their so-called confession as having been made under duress. In 2004, four detained bloggers were brought in front of TV cameras to claim they had been part of a network to destabilize the government. Upon their release, they publicly detailed their torture and ill-treatment. In 2006, video-taped statements by two Iranian-American detainees, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, claimed they were engaged in fomenting a “velvet revolution.”