Iranian TV shows footage of two detained Iranian-Americans

State TV said the video clips were a preview for a longer program titled "Under the Name of Democracy" scheduled to air later this week.

esfandiari captive 298.8 (photo credit: AP)
esfandiari captive 298.8
(photo credit: AP)
Two Iranian-Americans detained here on national security charges appeared Monday for the first time on state television, with one admitting in the brief video clip that his foundation may have targeted Islam. The TV images followed Iran's announcement earlier this month that fresh evidence had pushed its judiciary to launch new investigations into the cases of both Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh. State TV said the video clips were a preview for a longer program titled "Under the Name of Democracy" scheduled to air later this week. Family members and employers of Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh denounced the video clips, saying they were coerced and illegitimate. Along with shots of the two Iranian-Americans, the preview also showed archived images of street violence and protests, apparently from Iran and Eastern Europe. Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh appeared separately in the video clips, but they both spoke in Farsi and appeared to be in residential homes or offices. Tajbakhsh, who is an urban planning consultant with the New York-based George Soros' Open Society Institute, and Esfandiari, who is director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, have been held in Iran's notorious Evin prison since being arrested earlier this year on charges of endangering national security. Two other Iranian-Americans face similar charges. Family members, colleagues and employers of the four Iranian-Americans deny the allegations. The U.S. government has demanded that they be released. "The role of the Soros foundation might have been targeting the world of Islam," Tajbakhsh, 45, said in the video clip, reading from a piece of paper. In another clip, Esfandiari was wearing what appeared to be the traditional black cloak called a chador. A man wearing glasses was shown seated across from her asking her questions. "I was an element in the velvet revolution in Georgia," Esfandiari said. The TV did not elaborate or explain the context in which she said this. But the Iranian Intelligence Ministry has accused her of trying to set up networks of Iranians with the ultimate goal of creating a "soft revolution" in Iran to topple the hardline Islamic regime, along the lines of the revolutions that ended communist rule in Eastern Europe. At another point in the video, Esfandiairi said: "Finding speakers has been my role," _ a possible reference to her efforts to bring prominent Iranians to the US to talk about the political situation in Iran. The Woodrow Wilson Center said Monday that that any "confessions" made by Esfandiari which Iranian state-run television says it will air later this week have no legitimacy. "Any statements she may make without having had access to her lawyer would be coerced and have no legitimacy or standing," Lee H. Hamilton, president and director of the Woodrow Wilson Center, said in a written statement. The Open Society Institute also said in a statement it was "disheartened by the Iranian government's decision to stage television footage of coerced statements" made by Tajbakhsh and Esfandiari. Iran in the past has allegedly forced detainees to incriminate themselves publicly on television. Most recently in March, British sailors detained by Tehran for allegedly entering Iranian territory, repeatedly appeared in videos during their captivity. Britain accused Iran of using the sailors for propaganda by putting them on TV for appearances in which they "admitted" trespassing in Tehran's waters. The crew was freed after two weeks in captivity. It was unclear if the program scheduled to air later this week on Iranian state TV would also show the other two Iranian-Americans facing charges in Iran: Parnaz Azima, a journalist who works for the US-funded Radio Farda, and Ali Shakeri, a founding board member of the University of California, Irvine, Center for Citizen Peacebuilding. Shakeri is in prison, while Azima is free but barred from the leaving Iran.Speaking from his home in Potomac, Maryland, Esfandiari's husband, Shaul Bakhash, said that some of the claims made in the video of his wife were "absurd." Esfandiari has never to visited Georgia or worked on issues related to the country or Eastern Europe, he said. Her work on organizing speakers and academics for conferences is also not in dispute, he said. "If that is all they can produce, it is pretty thin gruel," Bakhash said. International human rights groups, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch, have expressed deep concern for the health of the detained Americans - especially Esfandiari, who is 67. The Wilson Center also has said that Esfandiari, who was arrested while visiting Iran to see her ailing mother, has been held at Evin prison in solitary confinement without access to her family, lawyers or international rights organizations. The detentions come as Iran has escalated accusations against the United States, alleging it has uncovered spy rings organized by the U.S. and its Western allies. US President George W. Bush has demanded that Iran "immediately and unconditionally" released the four Iranian-Americans and has denied that they were spying for the United States. But Bush's remarks have drawn criticism from Iranian officials, who accuse him of interfering in Iran's internal affairs.