Over the past few years, Human Rights Watch has seen numerous governments wage disinformation wars to further their agendas. Journalists and human rights activists, including Human Rights Watch staff, face online harassment campaigns, including by state-funded troll armies, which seek to distract readers from governments’ serious human rights violations. Many trolls target women with sexist harassment and threats of violence. These campaigns often seek to personalize attacks on individuals and their work – and Iran is no exception.
Pro- and anti-government actors have created an often toxic media environment for many Iranian activists and commentators, for the likely purpose of intimidating and silencing information and commentary that displeases them. Unrelenting state repression in Iran and against Iranian activists adds to the unhealthy environment and reinforces this dismal reality.
Recent targets include the Human Rights Watch Iran researcher, who has been subjected to a social media campaign filled with harassment, misinformation, and slander. A previous campaign run by IranDisinfo, a project that was temporarily funded by the US State Department, targeted journalists, policy analysts, and human rights defenders with attacks that crossed the line into personal abuse. The legitimate frustration and anger created by Iranian authorities’ abuses does not justify attacking Iranians online with slander and threats of physical violence.
Human Rights Watch stands behind its research on Iran and its Iran researcher, who is facing attacks, including threats of violence, for her work documenting human rights violations in Iran. The Human Rights Watch work on Iran, like all of the organization’s work, is a collective effort to which many staff members contribute during the writing and review process.
For more than 30 years, Human Rights Watch has investigated human rights abuses in Iran, publishing dozens of reports documenting the serious abuses Iranians have faced and continue to endure, and demanding that Iranian authorities respect the rights of everyone in the country. The work has included documenting violations on freedom of speech, security forces’ excessive use of force against protesters, torture of detainees, discrimination against minorities and women, and the rampant use of the death penalty.
Human Rights Watch applies the same methodologies and standards, grounded in international human rights law and international humanitarian law, to its work in more than 100 countries, including Iran. And while Human Rights Watch welcomes critical commentary on its work, governments and other parties sometimes engage in baseless, bad faith, and personalized attacks rather than addressing the human rights violations documented.
Human Rights Watch rejects the disinformation being promoted online. The organization will keep documenting the serious human rights abuses that Iran’s autocratic rulers are committing, shining a spotlight on civil society bravely working on the ground, and seeking justice for the authorities’ crimes.