Iran's decision to broadcast video of two detained Iranian-Americans accused of conspiring against the country's security provoked rare public criticism of Tehran's hardline government.
A two-part state TV program that aired last week included a montage of disparate quotes from Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh. The government billed the comments as confessions, but the detainees' families and employers and the US said they were illegitimate and coerced.
But in an unusual reaction in Iran, where national security issues normally go unchallenged publicly, some questioned the government's move to put the detained Iranian-Americans on display.
"The era of [obtaining] televised confessions is over,'' the reformist newspaper Hambastegi said in a front-page editorial on Saturday. "If it was an effective weapon, Western governments ... would have undoubtedly resorted to it."
Mohsen Shafiei, a well-known independent Tehran analyst, also questioned the rationale behind the TV program.
"You can't rely on confessions made by people under pressure," Shafiei said. "They were not free to speak. It's only propaganda."
Reaction to the telecast from conservatives, however, was overwhelmingly positive.
Many Iranian clerics, who are appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the program in their Friday prayers as a blow to alleged US plans to overthrow the hardline Iranian regime, newspapers reported on Saturday.
"This program showed that the US was after a soft coup in Iran, but was disgraced," hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami was quoted as saying in the conservative daily Resalat on Saturday.
Reza Ostadi, another hardline cleric, called the detained Iranian-Americans' "confessions" a "divine favor" that helped uncover the US plot for regime change.
Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh have been accused of endangering Iran's national security and the government has said new evidence led to intensified investigations.
Two other Iranian-Americans are also being held on national security charges.
The TV program, titled In the Name of Democracy, included clips of the detainees' purported confessions, mixed with footage of anti-government protests in former Soviet nations, meant to link them to eastern Europe's velvet revolutions. The footage also showed US President George W. Bush advocating the spread of democracy.
In the program's second episode broadcast on Thursday, Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, purportedly said that a network of foreign activists was trying to destabilize Iran and bring about "essential" social change.
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