On Wednesday, IranWire published a report that contradicted the denials that have been repeated by the authorities involved with Sahrifi-Fard and other similar cases. It pointed out that torture during police interrogation is notably commonplace in the Islamic Republic, especially during political crackdowns like those seen at the end of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and after massive protests against the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.
Many observers have noted that Iran appears to currently be in the midst of another crackdown that is similar to, albeit more gradual than, the 2009 repression of dissent. Journalists and persons with foreign connections have been arrested en masse over the past several months, in what is widely regarded as a preemptive attack on any individuals or social trends that might suggest cooperation and reconciliation with Western governments in the wake of last summer’s nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers including the US.
The IranWire report quoted some observers as saying that the laws regarding interrogation have been improving, at least in theory, by barring figures like Intelligence Ministry agents from conducting them on their own. But the same report emphasizes that these sorts of alterations are unlikely to create meaningful change in practice, especially considering that Iranian officials frequently violate the law, and with impunity.
Since 2003, the law has technically considered confessions to be invalid which are extracted under coercion. And yet reports continue to emerge from within Iranian jails describing torturous interrogations and forced confessions, which are not only embraced by the Iranian judiciary but also broadcast on Iranian state media as supposed proof of guilt, or of broader narratives like the claim of Western infiltration.
In some cases, arrestees report being forced to sign confessions even before criminal charges have been brought against them. This has been the case in multiple recent, high-profile cases involving dual nationals. Among the most recent such incidents, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman and project coordinator for the Thomson Reuters foundation, was reportedly forced to confess to interrogators while being held without charge, after she was separated from her two-year-old child and arrested at the airport while trying to return home from a visit to her Iranian parents.
As well as illustrating that forced confessions are apparently still commonplace in instances of apparently political arrest, the accounts of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s treatment also highlight the fact that such confessions may be elicited not only through physical but also through psychological torture.
The IranWire report details how many former political prisoners had observed similar tactics whereby one interrogator would seek to secure a confession through physical violence and threats, and if unsuccessful would be followed by another interrogator who would try “to make the accused co-operate by giving him false hope.”
It seems likely that these tactics were at play in an incident in which Zaghari-Ratcliffe was informed on June 9 that she was going to be released from prison, and conveyed that information to her family before the decision was reversed, leading to her remaining in custody to the present date. Still, no charges have been levied against the woman, although she has vaguely been accused of being a leading member of an infiltration network involved in attempts at “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic.
The International Campaign reports that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been systematically denied access to a lawyer, even after presenting choices of representation to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps for approval. It also notes that her case is conspicuously similar to those of several other dual nationals, including Iranian-Canadian anthropology professor Homa Hoodfar and French Foreign Ministry staffer Nazak Afshar, both of whom have also apparently been subject to coercive and technically unlawful interrogation.