Iran’s State-Run Broadcaster Airs Smear Campaigns on Imprisoned Foreign Nationals
Iran’s state-funded TV and radio broadcaster, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), has aired videos accusing two imprisoned foreign nationals of espionage.
IRIB has repeatedly colluded with Iran’s judiciary and security forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to convince the Iranian public that defendants held in politically motivated cases are guilty of committing crimes.
The state-run news service also broadcasts forced confessions by detainees, in clear violation of international provisions on fair trials and the right to due process.
On November 26, 2017, IRIB’s “20:30” news program claimed that American citizen Xiyue Wang—who has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in Iran—had traveled to the country to obtain documents for the US government.
“Wang is a PhD student at Princeton who got his graduate degree from Harvard, two universities that operate under the umbrella of American security agencies and the Council on Foreign Relations,” claimed IRIB.
Wang, a 37-year-old naturalized American citizen from China and PhD student in history, was conducting research in Tehran’s archive centers for his thesis when he was arrested in the summer of 2016.
However, IRIB described Wang as “an American made in China,” claiming he tried to leave Iran carrying 4,500 documents from Iran’s Foreign Ministry, National Library and Parliament. IRIB did not mention that these institutions maintain archives containing documents that are accessible by the public, or that Wang had entered Iran legally.
“Over and over again we’re seeing foreigners who were legally allowed to enter Iran being imprisoned as political playing cards by hardliners who want to use them as hostages in their dealings with Western countries,” said CHRI’s Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi in July 2017.
The video used dramatic music, screenshots of parts of emails that were taken from Zaghari-Ratcliffe by her interrogators, and photographs of her and other people with red circles drawn on their faces.
Throughout the video, Zaghari-Ratcliffe is held guilty by association by IRIB, which tries to tie her work experience to BBC Persian, which is blocked in Iran and which the judiciary has tried to intimidate into silence.
IRIB also claimed that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a spy for allegedly attending a reputable university in the UK.
“SOAS University in the UK is one of the main outposts of the MI6 British Intelligence Service, which has an Iranian studies foundation where Mrs. Zaghari is a member,” claimed IRIB.
“That’s where she met Richard Ratcliffe and married him a year and a half later… Ratcliffe is a Middle East researcher who has traveled to Israel and Iran many times,” said IRIB.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London, was arrested in Tehran in April 2016. She is serving a five-year prison sentence for unspecified national security charges. Her husband is an accountant based in London.
In a statement issued on November 28, the FreeNazanin campaign said the timing of IRIB’s claims coincides with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s new trial, which has been scheduled for December 10, 2017.
Earlier this month, reports surfaced claiming that Iran was holding Zaghari-Ratcliffe to force the UK to settle an unpaid debt related to an arms deal between the two countries dating back to before the 1979 Iranian revolution.
At least 30 dual nationals have been arrested by the IRGC since the signing of the Iranian nuclear deal in July 2015, according to a Reuters investigation. At least 12 dual nationals, foreign nationals and foreign permanent residents are currently imprisoned in Iran on national security charges.