WASHINGTON – Iranian television on Monday aired images of two imprisoned Americans for the first time and said it will show a documentary Wednesday that includes confessions by scholar Haleh Esfandiari, of Potomac, Md., and New York-based social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh.
The brief video clips included apparent excerpts from the larger effort, titled “In the Name of Democracy,” in which both make statements about their activities. The Tehran government claims their efforts are designed to undermine its national security and foment nonviolent revolution.
Esfandiari, the director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian’s Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars, is quoted as saying her work was “in the name of dialogue, in the name of women’s rights, in the name of democracy.” The 67-year-old grandmother was pictured wearing a black headscarf and coat in a setting outside Evin Prison’s Ward 209, where she has been held in solitary confinement since she was detained May 8.
The trailer to the footage charged that Esfandiari was specifically an agent for the 2003 “velvet revolution” in Georgia, which led to the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze.
Tajbakhsh, a consultant for George Soros’ Open Society Institute who was arrested May 11, was quoted as saying “(The role) of the Soros center after the collapse of communism was to focus on the Islamic world.”
Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh are both U.S. and Iranian citizens.
Their statements sparked angry reactions in the United States. Shaul Bakhash, Esfandiari’s husband, charged that the Iranian government has resorted to televised, fabricated “confessions,” KGB-style.
“It is shameful that Iran’s leaders allow such reprehensible practices by the security agencies to continue; they only discredit Iran, not my wife,” he said in an interview.
The implication that Esfandiari was associated in any way with Georgia’s political upheaval is “ridiculous,” because she has never been to Georgia or engaged in any way with the country, said Bakhash, a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Esfandiari’s daughter, Haleh Bakhash, said her mother looked very frail after 10 weeks in prison and four months under house arrest. “She looks pale and thin. She has lost weight and has aged at least 10 years since I last saw her,” said Haleh Bakhash, a Washington lawyer.
In a statement, Wilson Center president Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman, said any statements Esfandiari has made without access to her lawyer would be “coerced and have no legitimacy.” Esfandiari’s lawyer, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, has been denied access to Esfandiari.
“This reprehensible pattern of activity by interrogators in Iran has occurred before: jailing innocent people, confining them and then producing a framed or cobbled statement or confession. This is not a fair judicial process at work,” said Hamilton, co-author of the Iraq Study Group report that recommended diplomatic dialogue with Iran.
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