November 22, 2019
On the evening of November 20, Iranian state TV broadcast the confession of a woman who was arrested during recent protests. The woman was introduced to the viewers as Fatemeh Davand, and after she spoke a few sentences, the host of the program stated that she was one of the ringleaders of the unrest, which erupted after the government announced an increase in gasoline prices. The program went on to claim that “women,” “groups opposed to the Iranian government,” “America” and “counter-revolutionary groups” led the recent protests.
Seven days after the nationwide protests began, and after at least 100 people have been killed by security forces and thousands have been injured and arrested, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has returned to its worn tactics – filming false and forced confessions and then airing them on national television. This time, there is a new twist: Women are being accused of being the “leaders of unrest.”
The woman, pale-faced and clad in black chador, tells the camera that in 1974 she had escaped from home and had gone to the city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraq [Persian video]. She says she has no more to say, but the TV host says she a record of cooperating with counter-revolutionary groups. He then adds that she had been arrested while she was trying to escape the country from the border town where she was born.
But the journalist Shahed Alavi tells a different story. “The woman whom this sordid program calls Fatemeh Davand and says that she had been arrested while trying to escape by crossing the border had been shot, injured and then arrested in a street in Bukan [a city in the province of West Azerbaijan],” tweeted Alavi after her “confessions” were aired [Persian link]. “Her family had been told that she had been killed,” his post said. But what authorities wanted was to keep her incarcerated and force her to confess.
The program then shows women, some with their faces covered, among the protesters. The announcer says that these women “were the leaders of groups that set out to block the streets and destroy public property,” and then emphasizes that the women played on “the feelings and emotions of the people.”
After the program was broadcast, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) published a report claiming that Fatemeh Davand had returned to Iran to “establish communication with hostile groups during recent unrests.” The news agency claimed that the fact that there have been huge numbers of women participating in recent protests “raises questions,” ignoring the fact that Iranian women make up at least half, if not more, of the country’s population. IRNA reported that efforts to identify these women continues.
Another pro-government website, Resaneh 7, described women’s involvement in recent protests as “showing off” and accused them of coopering with the “counter-revolution to instigate riots.”
It appears that the Islamic Republic’s newest policy to crack down on freedoms is to target engaged women and female activists, using their presence at protests as an excuse to destroy the women’s civil rights movement.
Forced TV confessions have long been a favorite tactic used by the Islamic Republic to suppress opposition and dissent. Whenever there are protests and whenever there is a movement that the government does not approve of, authorities and state-run broadcasters sit people in front of TV cameras and force them to repeat phrases, words to the effect that they have been paid by opposition groups outside Iran and by “hostile” governments in an attempt to destroy the foundations of the Islamic Republic.
The tactic is nothing new, but what is unprecedented is the targeting of women. Frustrated by women’s calls for equality and greater freedoms over the last four decades, the regime has found a way to punish them, turning them into public enemies for the nation to vilify.