Torture is generally being applied with two primary objectivesto force prisoners to identify others involved in the demonstrations and coerce false confessions. The protesters are compelled to state that they went to demonstrations against the government because they fell under the influence of foreign media (aping comments by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other government figures, pointing to the Persian-language service of the BBC as a particularly favored whipping boy). On June 23, Iranian state television produced a parade of apprehended demonstrators who offered up crudely staged confessions. “I think we were provoked by networks like the BBC and [Voice of America] to take such immoral actions,” one young man stated. A woman followed him, saying that she “was influenced by VOA Persian [service] and the BBC because they were saying that the security forces were behind most of the clashes.”
As usual, torture is used to develop false information that works as domestic propaganda. The claim that foreign news services are the principal instigators serves several goals. First, it will provide a basis for criminal charges against protest leaders like Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Under Iran’s Law of Discretionary Punishment (Qanon-e Ta’zir), “consorting with foreign powers” is a crime subject to severe punishment. It can and frequently is elevated to a more formal criminal charge of “espionage,” in which case the death penalty can be sought. But in the Iranian system, insulting government leaders, convening unlawful meetings, and making false statements to the government are also punishable crimes. Second, it can provide a basis to prosecute not only the protester who made the confession, but also those who were identified by him or her as participants. But most important, it is used to fuel the Khamenei regime’s propaganda that the opposition is controlled by evil foreign powers, especially the United States and Great Britain. The notion of a grave threat from abroad is the whip that Iranian governments have used since the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini to silence critics and govern with an iron fist.
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