TEHRAN - Iran's reformist government admitted Monday that it was concerned over how the hardline judiciary managed to exact written apologies and confessions from several detained dissident journalists.
"People making statements that go against their convictions cannot win the confidence of public opinion and raise questions," government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh told journalists.
A week ago the Iranian press reported that four reformist journalists detained in a crackdown on the dissident press and Internet sites have written letters of repentance, saying they were "brainwashed" by foreigners and "counter-revolutionaries".
Former reformist MP Ali Mazroui has also reportedly written to President Mohammad Khatami complaining that his son Hanif -- also detained in the crackdown -- had been subject to physical and mental pressure to write a confession.
"If this is true, it raises real questions about the judiciary and security forces," Ramazanzadeh admitted, adding that such incidents were "unacceptable" and that Khatami had ordered an enquiry.
Of the four journalists who wrote confessions, three have been released pending trial.
Such public expressions of regret had grown less frequent compared with the early post-revolutionary days, when detained members of the opposition groups would appear on national television to make statements of repentance.
In the past months, Iran's hardline judiciary arrested a number of reformist journalists accused of publishing propaganda against the regime, acting against national security, disturbing the public mind and also insulting religious sanctities.
In recent weeks the European Union lodged a formal protest with Iranian authorities over the arrest and harassment of journalists, staff of non-governmental organizations and members of religious minorities.