Yesterday one of the channels the Iranian national television (IRTV) showed a trailer for an upcoming program to be shown on Wednesday and Thursday nights called “In the Name of Democracy.” In the trailer two Iranian-American scholars, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, are shown discussing things. The reason I cannot be more specific about the content is because the clips are so obviously doctored and shown out of context that the reference points are not at all clear. But the clear intent of the trailer is to relay the message that both Haleh and Kian are admitting that they were involved in efforts to create "cleavage between the government and people” (Kian’s words) and that their activities were merely “in the name of dialogue, in the name of empowering women, in the name of democracy” (Haleh’s words).
I am not surprised at what is being shown on IRTV. It is an old trick that used to be extensively practiced by the Intelligence Ministry in the pre-Khatami era that has now made a comeback during Ahmadinejad’s security-oriented environment. Both Haleh and Kian are filmed in a non-prison environment, probably in one of the many nicely set-up apartments that are owned by the Intelligence Ministry in the city of Tehran. My bet (and I have to acknowledge that my bet is an educated one because I spent a few days in the Evin prison last summer and then went through a series of lengthy “interviews” outside of prison for a couple of months) is that they don’t know that they are being filmed and in all likelihood they are not even talking to their interrogators! They are probably talking to someone, introduced to them as a professor or researcher in some Iranian university, about the Bush Administration’s Iran policy and its objectives.
I said that I am not surprised at what is being shown on IRTV but I am very surprised at the way the American newspapers are covering the trailer. Rather than reporting the exact words of both Haleh and Kian, they are printing the implications that Intelligence Ministry would like to relay through the doctored frames of their words. The implication is of course that these two scholars have "admitted" to things. For instance, the Washington Post story states: “Esfandiari …is quoted as saying her work was ‘in the name of dialogue, in the name of women's rights, in the name of democracy.’ In the trailer, however, Haleh in no way says “her work” was in the name of anything. In fact, as mentioned above, the doctored footage simply says, “in the name of democracy, in the name of women’s empowerment, in name of democracy.” The Los Angeles Times story also states:” “In the video clip shown Monday, she admits to being part of "a velvet revolution in Georgia," the former Soviet republic in the Caucasus region.” Again she says no such thing. Her words were “they were agents of the velvet revolution in Georgia.” The referent “they” is not at all clear and could have easily been any social or political group regularly identified as agent of change. Regarding Kian, the Los Angeles Times report states: “the role of ‘the Soros center after the collapse of communism was to target the Islamic world,’ he says in the promo, adding that he had sought to create ‘a conflict between the government and the people.’ Again he says no such thing. His only words, uttered not in continuity, are: “the Islamic world to be a target,” and “a cleavage be created between government and the people.”
The circumstances of Haleh and Kian are difficult enough to explain anything they end up saying to just get out of Evin prison. But I must admit that the American newspapers' falling so easily for the Intelligence Ministry's tricks took me by surprise.