Showing Jailed Americans, Iran TV Cites Confessions

US-Iranian Kian Tajbakhsh and Haleh Esfandiari
An image grab taken from footage broadcast 16 July 2007 by the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network (IRINN) shows US-Iranian Kian Tajbakhsh and Haleh Esfandiari talking to a camera at an unidentified place and time in Iran. Iran today showed the first footage of two US-Iranian academics since they were detained in May on charges of harming national security and announced it would broadcast confessions from the pair. The television pictures showed snippets of Tajbakhsh and Haleh Esfandiari, whose detention has raised tensions with Washington, talking to camera in a promotional trailer for a longer programme entitled "In The Name of Democracy" to be shown 18 July. AFP PHOTO/DSK (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images) (AFP/Getty Images)
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Iranian television aired images of two imprisoned Americans yesterday for the first time and said it will show more video tomorrow that includes confessions by scholar Haleh Esfandiari of Potomac and New York-based social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh.

The clips included apparent excerpts from the larger TV effort, titled "In the Name of Democracy," in which both make statements about their activities. Tehran maintains their work is designed to undermine Iran's security and foment nonviolent revolution.

Esfandiari, the director of Middle East programs at the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for 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 head scarf and a 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 an agent for the 2003 "velvet revolution" in Georgia, which led to the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Tajbakhsh, a consultant for George Soros's Open Society Institute who was arrested May 11, was quoted as saying that the role of "the Soros center after the collapse of communism was to focus on the Islamic world." He was pictured holding notes.

Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh hold dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship.

Shaul Bakhash, Esfandiari's husband, charged that the Iranian government had resorted to televised fabricated "confessions," KGB-style.

"Haleh is shown saying she brought speakers and Iranian academics to the Wilson Center. Only a paranoid would suggest this amounts to criminal activity," he said in an interview.

The implication that Esfandiari was associated 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.

Esfandiari's daughter, Haleh Bakhash, a Washington lawyer, said her mother looked "pale and thin" after 10 weeks in prison and four months under house arrest. "She has lost weight and has aged at least 10 years since I last saw her," she said.

In a statement, the Wilson Center's president, Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said any statements Esfandiari has made without access to her lawyer would be "coerced and have no legitimacy." Esfandiari's lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been denied access to her.

The Open Society Institute said in a statement that showing the two captive Americans in civilian attire in a residential setting was an attempt to disguise the conditions under which they are being held in one of the Middle East's most notorious prisons.

Two other dual American-Iranian nationals are being detained in Iran. Ali Shakeri, a California businessman, was picked up at the Tehran airport on the same day Esfandiari was detained and also is being held at Evin Prison. Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda has been unable to leave Iran since her passport was confiscated several months ago but is free on bond of more than $500,000.

Former FBI agent Robert A. Levinson has been missing in Iran since March. Despite five messages to the Iranian government, the State Department said yesterday that it had no information on his location or condition.

The State Department called on Iran yesterday to immediately release the Americans.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company