There are honest ways to criticize the Iranian government, but the media chose to whip up a frenzy with unverified and false stories
Since the eruption of civil unrest in the Islamic Republic back in September, Western media has not shied away from spreading uncorroborated or outright false stories about Iran’s government. The implications of the constant stream of disinformation is the justification of sanctions that kill Iranians.
Following the death in Iranian custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, back in mid-September, civil unrest in Iran spread far and wide, with protests sparked over foreign media reports that had indicated that the young woman was beaten to death by Iran’s morality police. Later, CCTV footage was released, which contradicted some reports on how the young woman had died, followed by a coroner report which indicated her death came due to cerebral hypoxia as a result of underlying issues. Despite this, the demonstrations that started on September 16 continued.
What started initially as a number of demonstrations, primarily in Kurdish-predominant areas of Iran, turned into a nationwide dis-united movement that took the form of violent riots, online social media campaigns, symbolic hijab burning protests and even deadly terrorist attacks against sites of worship. As Iran accused the United States and Israel of attempting to spark a Syria-style civil war, US President Joe Biden vowed to “free Iran” during a speech in California. Amongst the chaos and the media reporting that aimed to portray the Iranian government as a distinct kind of evil, the Biden administration began to tighten its ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions campaign. The current US sanctions campaign, first enacted under the former Trump administration, has been condemned by the International Court of Justice due to its impact on humanitarian goods, such as medicine, entering Iran.
Outright lies, anonymous sources and distortions
Perhaps the most prominent piece of disinformation that has been disseminated about Iran during the past few months was the assertion, by Newsweek, that 15,000 Iranian demonstrators were sentenced to death. According to the initial claims, the Iranian parliament had supposedly voted to approve this move, implying that the country’s judiciary took no part in such a massive decision. The story was spread by leading online personas and even Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, who later deleted his post on Twitter about the matter.
However, since then the outlandish claims have not stopped coming. Prior to the Iranian national team’s game against the US in the FIFA World Cup, CNN released a report that no other major news outlet, save for a few tabloid news sites in the UK, touched. CNN quoted an unnamed “security source” that according to the report had managed to find out that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had infiltrated Qatar in order to threaten the Iranian team’s players.
The CNN story states that the source somehow found out that the players were offered luxury gifts, such as vehicles, prior to the beginning of the World Cup, which would imply that the source had intel on the Iranian team when they were in Tehran before the tournament. The report goes on to say that IRGC officials threatened the Iranian players’ families with torture in the event that they may protest their government during the World Cup. CNN’s source also claims that the coach of the Iranian team, a Portuguese national, was also interviewed by the IRGC, although they weren’t able to hear what was discussed like they did with the players.
The same article makes the additional claim that the Iranian government was flying out pro-government supporters to watch the team play, in essence creating artificial fans. None of the claims have been corroborated, and it didn’t gain purchase with major news outlets, which is strange considering the severity of the allegations being made that the IRGC, an official branch of Iran’s armed forces, had violated Qatar’s sovereignty in order to threaten their own football team. The difference between the CNN and Newsweek piece is that with the “security source”, there is no way to determine with certainty whether the whole thing is made up or not.
In the advent of news that Iran had abolished its morality police unit, responsible for the arrest of Mahsa Amini, another false story emerged from a number of little-known crypto-currency outlets online, claiming that Iran was set to freeze the bank account of women who weren’t wearing the appropriate Islamic covering. The origins of the story came from an interview that was conducted with an ultra-conservative member of Iran’s parliament, Hossein Jalali, who allegedly proposed a three-warning system via SMS, with the end penalty being the freezing of bank accounts. This has never come close to being implemented or even been discussed in parliament. Despite this, tweets claiming that Iran was implementing this strategy went viral.
Posts on social media from influencers have claimed that the Iranian security forces “are raping children”, and that young women are being murdered for showing their hair in a “horrific” and “medieval” crackdown. These reactions naturally come as a result of the factual inaccuracies of the reporting about Iran and we continue to see more and more as the weeks go on.
The most recent misrepresentation of the facts has come in the coverage and reaction to a number of executions in Iran. Earlier this month, the second death sentence connected to the recent civil unrest was carried out. This led to headlines from the likes of the Associated Press (AP), that read ‘Iran execution: Man publicly hanged from crane amid protests‘, which is how we saw the sentencing of Majidreza Rahnavard to death, by the Iranian judiciary, framed throughout Western media. The AP piece opens with the following paragraph:
“Iran executed a second prisoner on Monday convicted over crimes committed during the nationwide protests challenging the country’s theocracy, publicly hanging him from a construction crane as a gruesome warning to others.”
Whilst the AP article did explain, further down in the piece, that the young Iranian man had stabbed to death two Iranian security officials, injuring 4 others, what is written works to present Tehran as a monstrous regime that is unjustly killing Iranian protesters as a warning to others. The reality is, Iran does have a death sentence and does carry it out, but since some States in the US do the same, the story has to be twisted so that Iran is singled out as a special kind of evil. Iran’s death sentence is handed out through a judicial process, during which Majidreza Rahnavard admitted to killing two security officials. The incident was even filmed. No country on earth would allow such a crime to go unpunished.
In total, roughly 400 Iranians have allegedly been sentenced to prison terms for their involvement in various criminal activities during the latest round of civil unrest. Two Iranians have been executed, after admitting to carrying out attacks against the nation’s security forces.
Whilst there are others who may receive the death penalty, the Western media took it upon themselves to whip up a frenzy about an execution that was not even ruled. Earlier this month, several outlets ran headlines with allegations that an Iranian football player from Isfahan was next in line for execution. Reports claimed that a small-time football player, Nasr Azadani, had been sentenced to death and despite the Iranian judiciary denying this, the claims took hold on social media. 26-year-old Nasr Azadani was arrested in connection with the murder of several members of Iran’s security services. It has been reported that an indictment carrying the charge of “accessory to moharebeh” had been communicated with Azadani. The charge of “moharebeh” (“war against God” in Islamic law) can carry with it a death sentence, however, it is not clear whether being an accessory would be ruled this way.
The problem here is that Western media outlets jump on unsubstantiated claims, and repeat half truths, in an attempt to extract a predetermined anti-Iran narrative. From trusted outlets like the AP, to CNN, all the way to the tabloids, there is little care for fact checking and journalistic integrity. The goal is to delegitimize the Iranian government, to encourage outrage. Factual information is only important for nit-picking in a way that supports this biased narrative. At the same time, it is somewhat ironic that none of these media outlets, or Western politicians that repeat their claims and feign concern over Iranian prisoners, care one bit for journalist Julian Assange, who the US is attempting to extradite from the United Kingdom.
The outcomes of this kind of reporting are the encouragement of prejudiced hate against Iranian culture, the justification of sanctions that kill Iranians and the peddling of new-Orientalism talking points, all whilst claiming to be in support of human rights and feminism. There are various ways to make good faith criticisms of the Iranian government, but this is not what we are seeing, this is the Western media machine piling in on a regime change agenda, and everything they say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.