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Iran uses activists for propaganda

Interviews with two detained Iranian-American activists ran on state-run Iranian television Wednesday. Analysts say their self-implicating statements were coerced.

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Using methods that hark back to the years following Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranian state-run television on Wednesday night broadcast what it called "confessions" of two Iranian-American academics accused of undermining the regime.

Called "In the name of Democracy," the 50-minute film deftly spliced images of "velvet" revolutions in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan with segments of interviews with the two dual citizens. The film sought to portray the detained activists' work for American think tanks and civil-society groups as a tool for a US policy of regime change in Iran.

The documentary comes amid one of the most comprehensive crackdowns on political activism since the revolution. Confronted with $75 million worth of pro-democracy funding set aside by the US Congress – and frequent rhetoric about regime change – Tehran is taking a page from its old playbook to fight what it sees as a mounting threat to political stability.

"The impetus comes from die-hard people around [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, the former Revolutionary Guards, people who now dominate the intelligence services," says Ervand Abrahamian, an Iran expert at the City University of New York. "They practiced this under Khomeini, so they are really going back to the old methods [that] did work."

In the film, Haleh Esfandiari, head of Middle East programs at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, spoke of facilitating scholarly exchanges, networks of Iran experts, and meetings at international conferences. Ms. Esfandiari, looking pale and drawn, sat on a couch in a black head scarf and robe beside a plant – not in her cell at Tehran's Evin prison, where she has been held in solitary confinement since May 8.

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