IGF 2023 Town Hall #53 Digital torture: practices of forced "confession" videos


Technology in International Human Rights Law

Panel - 60 Min


The publication of forced confession videos is becoming a notorious practice of authoritarian regimes. The session will cover the case studies of Belarus, China and Iran- political regimes of which routinely use forced confession videos. In Belarus, “confession tapes,” featuring the dissidents admitting to crimes they did not commit and telling details of personal lives, including forced outings, are daily published in government-controlled Telegram channels. In China, lawyers, NGO workers and journalists were forced to repeat the lines given by the Chinese police to be televised on the Party-controlled channels, following physical and mental torture. As harmful as the practice of publishing forced confessions is, there is some progress in combating it by civil society. In Iran, televised forced confessions, along with defamatory programmes, are used by state propaganda for the suppression of dissent and demoralization of civil society. Following advocacy efforts, Youtube removed paid ads, used by the Belarusian authorities to disseminate confession videos, while Chinese TV channels were taken off air in Norway, Sweden and Australia.

During the session, experts from Access Now, Human Constanta, Justice for Iran, Safeguard Defenders, and World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) will analyze the publication of forced confessions from human rights perspective, identify strategies of addressing them and holding the actors responsible, including business, accountable.

In addition, the participants will be able to gain:
Insights and exchange of information about forms of digital torture in authoritarian environments and how they play into a larger pattern of digital dictatorship (diving deeper into examples of Belarus, China, and Iran);
Challenges of recognizing such practices as torture in accordance with applicable international legal rules;
Roles of big tech platforms in preventing such practices by means of honoring their human rights obligations (deplatforming, bans), including in light of the Declaration of principles for content and platform governance in times of crisis;
Ideas on how to combat such practices or mitigate their harmful impacts, including innovative approaches such as cooperation with big tech platforms, group appeals by victims to platforms, using TV regulatory bodies in other countries, or having leaders of TV channels sanctioned.

The discussion will be open to online and on-site attendees who would like to intervene and share their experience with the panel. Both moderators will take turns to make participation as equitable as possible between people online and people on site. The rapporteur will take notes that will be projected/shared on screen; so that participants can follow the conversation. The moderators will organize two or more rounds of comments / questions, alternating on-site and online participation.


Human Constanta (HC)
Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Access Now
Aliaxej Kazliuk, Human Constanta


Eugenia Andreyuk, Regional Program Coordinator - Europe and Central Asia, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Peter Dahlin, Co-founder Safeguard Defenders, USA (China-focused)
Tatsiana Ziniakova, Legal Analyst, Human Constanta, Belarus
Omid Shams, Research Director and Project Manager, Justice for Iran, META

Onsite Moderator

Aliaxej Kazliuk, Human Constanta

Online Moderator

Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Access Now


Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Access Now



Targets: The panel is a perfect opportunity to advance and spread knowledge on one of the many forms of growing digital authoritarianism and help qualify such practices as a form of inhumane and degrading treatment of political and civil society dissidents. While authoritarian governments devalue human rights and are unwilling to guarantee public access to information that will lead to a conclusion that their actions violate human rights standards, civil society representatives of the panel can perform this task instead, thus ensuring the implementation of SDG 16.10.
In the context of SDG 16., a discussion on digital torture can help move towards accountability of state and corporate actors, through strengthening national institutions and building capacity of civil society to withstand digital threats by preventing and combating human rights violations.