Authorities in Iran have again resorted to airing forced confessions of family members to dodge responsibility in the suspicious death of a teenage protester.

The 16-year-old Nika Shakarami’s body was found ten days after she left home to take part in an anti-government protest on September 20. The last time she spoke to anyone she was running away from security forces chasing her on motorbikes.

Activists had warned Wednesday on social media that Nika’s family were under pressure to say she had committed suicide. Later in the evening, the state-run television’s infamous 8:30 news bulletin aired short excerpt of so-called “confessions” of Nika’s uncle and aunt as proof that she had committed suicide and security forces had no role in her death as many in Iran say.

Nika’s aunt and uncle were arrested a few days ago after publicizing her suspicious death on social media.

The program has aired forced ‘confessions’ of imprisoned activists, politicians, and social media celebrities many times, often using such ‘confessions’ as proof that dissent in Iran is only the result of foreign plots as the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei says in almost every public speech.

Many on social media have accused the IRIB program of pushing a script written by security forces and pointed out various discrepancies in the story as it was told by the authorities.

They have pointed out that Nika was wearing dark trainers in a photo released by the authorities of her body on the ground in the backyard of a house after “falling from a height”.

Nika's aunt, Atash Shakrami shown during her televised 'confession', October 5, 2022

In CCTV footage shown in the same program the woman they say is Nika entering the same building a few hours before her death is wearing white trainers. The program shows a man, apparently an interrogator, who indicates the woman entering the building on a laptop screen with his finger and asking who she is. “Nika,” the clearly distressed aunt, Atash Shakarami, replies without further comment.

The program also shows Nika’s uncle, Mohsen Shakarami, saying the family would follow the case through legal channels and did not approve of any “violent moves that cause damage to public property.”

Social media users have pointed out that in the video shown by IRIB the shadow of a man is seen on the wall behind Nika’s uncle while he is speaking, whispering something to him, apparently instructing him what to say.

On Thursday the official news agency (IRNA) released a video showing two French citizens, Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacque Paris, who were arrested in May on charges of espionage. IRNA called the French couple who are unionists associated with France’s National Federation of Education, Culture and Vocational Training “intelligence officers who came to Iran with bags of money”. The IRNA report did not say when the video was made.

In one of the scenes in the video Kohler describes herself as an “intelligence and operation agent of French foreign security service” saying she and her partner had come to Iran to fund strikes and antigovernment protests.

In reaction to forced confessions of its citizens, France's Foreign Ministry accused Iran Thursday of the practices of "worst dictatorial regimes". The ministry categorically denied that its citizens were intelligence agents, saying it will do its utmost to secure their release.

In a tweet Thursday Abdollah Ganji, the former editor of the IRGC-linked Javan newspaper who is now chief editor of Tehran municipality’s Hamshahri newspaper, claimed that Nika’s death was not related to the protests and merely a “coincidence” which protesters are using as a “spare fuel tank for the riots”.

A political analyst who asked not to be named, told Iran International, “What matters in this case, irrespective of who is telling the truth, is that nobody is convinced by what the authorities say because nobody trusts the system. People will believe the exact opposite of what the government says,” and added “Even the authorities know that everything is collapsing.”

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