TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian-American detained in Iran said on state television on Thursday she had concluded that a network of research centers and universities she had helped create had aims which would weaken the Iranian government.
Haleh Esfandiari, 67-year-old director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, was arrested in May when visiting Iran from the United States.
She told a documentary TV program on Thursday “Now, after nearly five months ... I have reached the conclusion that we had created a chain of research centers, foundations and universities ... the aim of such networks was to create very fundamental changes inside the Iranian regime ... which means really weakening the system.”
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has warned of a U.S.-backed “velvet revolution” using intellectuals and others to bring about “regime change”.
Kian Tajbakhsh, another Iranian-American, was also arrested while visiting Iran in May.
A consultant with the Open Society Institute, founded by billionaire investor George Soros, he told the same program: “The Soros centre’s job in eastern Europe is nearly finished. Its main focus now is the Islamic world, Arab countries, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.”
State television’s promotional clips of the program on Monday outraged Washington, which warned that any confessions which were broadcast would have no legitimacy. The first episode of the program was aired on Wednesday.
The Woodrow Wilson Centre’s president, Lee Hamilton, said on Tuesday Esfandiari has been held in solitary confinement, adding that “any statements she may make without having had access to her lawyer would be coerced and have no legitimacy or standing.”
Iran’s judiciary said on Tuesday the statements made by Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh on television carried no legal weight.
Their comments were broadcast in a documentary “In the Name of Democracy”, which used parts of speeches by U.S. President George W. Bush about spreading democracy and images of popular uprisings in Georgia and Ukraine apparently to imply that Washington had similar plans for Iran.
The documentary also showed Ramin Jahanbeglou, an Iranian-Canadian writer detained for four months last year for endangering state security. “I am sorry for what I have done and I regret it,” he said.
State television has in the past broadcast what it said were confessions by dissidents serving jail sentences for alleged attempts to undermine the Islamic Republic. Some have remained in jail even after the “confessions” were aired.
Many Iranian intellectuals say such measures are aimed at deterring any academic debate about the clerical establishment.
Rights groups and Western diplomats say Iranian authorities have increased pressure on dissidents, intellectuals and critical journalists, possibly in response to mounting international pressure over its atomic program.
The documentary made no mention of two other American-Iranians arrested this year on security-related charges, one of whom has been freed on bail.
Long-time foe Washington is leading efforts to isolate Iran over what it says are its plans to build nuclear arms. U.S. forces have detained five Iranians in Iraq on charges of backing militants there. Iran denies the charges.
The two countries will hold fresh talks in Iraq soon, following a landmark meeting in Baghdad in May.