TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s state television on Monday broadcast images of two detained Iranian-American academics apparently confessing to accusations of acting against the Islamic state’s national security and spying.
Haleh Esfandiari, an academic at the U.S.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the Open Society Institute founded by billionaire investor George Soros, appeared in a brief clip promoting a program to be shown this week.
The pair were detained separately in May while visiting Iran from the United States. Officials accuse them of involvement in efforts to carry out a U.S.-backed “velvet revolution” in Iran.
Washington, which broke ties with Iran in 1980, has rejected the accusations and called for their release.
The Woodrow Wilson Center’s president, Lee Hamilton, said Esfandiari has been held in solitary confinement and described the reported charges against her as ludicrous.
“Any statements she may make without having had access to her lawyer would be coerced and have no legitimacy or standing,” Hamilton said in a statement.
Two other Iranian-Americans have been charged with security-related issues. One of them has been freed on bail.
The clips showed Esfandiari, wearing a black headscarf in line with Islamic dress codes, saying: “In the name of dialogue, in the name of women’s rights, in the name of democracy.”
Tajbakhsh was shown holding notes and saying: “(The role) of the Soros centre after the collapse of communism was to focus on the Islamic world.”
A U.S. State Department spokesman said he had not seen the television images but repeated the U.S. demand that the jailed Iranian-Americans should be released and allowed home now.
“They should all be allowed to leave Iran and be reunited with their families,” said Sean McCormack.
“To prevent these kinds of people from leaving Iran sends a negative message and is an unfortunate comment about the nature of this particular regime,” he said of their detention. “We believe firmly that these people should be allowed to leave immediately.”
Iran earlier said Esfandiari was cooperating with officials to find those working in the Soros centre network. Iran cited her saying the network was part of a “velvet revolution”.
“One of my missions was to identify speech-makers ...,” Esfandiari said in the clip, apparently part of a confession.
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”.
Rights groups and Western diplomats say Iran is cracking down with increasing rigor on dissidents, intellectuals and critical journalists, adding that it may in part be a response to international pressure over its atomic program.
Long-time foe Washington is leading efforts to isolate Iran over what it says are plans to build nuclear arms. U.S. forces have also detained five Iranians in Iraq on charges of backing militants there. Iran denies the charges.
State television said the full program “In the Name of Democracy” would be broadcast on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
Iran’s state television has in the past broadcast what it said were confessions of dissidents serving jail sentences for alleged attempts to undermine the Islamic Republic.
Ramin Jahanbeglou, an Iranian-Canadian writer detained for four months last year for endangering state security, was also shown in Monday’s promotional clip saying: “I had ties with American political institutes ...”
The Society for Defending Prisoners’ Rights on Monday criticized “the illegal arrest of dissidents” in recent months.
“Hardline courts have jailed dozens of students, journalists and labor activists in the past months,” it said in a statement faxed to Reuters. “These arrests are a violation of human rights and should be stopped immediately.”