Online Harassment Of Women Journalists Covering Iran, Groups Say

Wednesday, 10/20/2021

Foreign-based women journalists covering Iran face "increased and concerning levels" of online harassment and abuse, say Article 19 and Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The increasing trend of authorities and mobs harassing journalists outside the country is extremely disturbing,” said Quinn McKew, Executive Director of London-based Article 19. “Iranian journalists who face online abuse are not only seeing their work affected, it’s having a huge impact on their lives.”

McKew urged the “international community,” in which she included “technology companies,” to “do more to protect journalists around the world."

In collaboration with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Article 19 interviewed journalists in March to investigate the "toxic and often violent space" surrounding women journalists reporting on Iran.

Article 19 cited smear campaigns and tactics to undermine the victims' credibility, sometimes launched by people who presented themselves as "opposition activists" who portrayed their targets as "agents" or "propagandists" for “the regime” in Iran.

"A lot of the women we spoke to described similar campaigns, seemingly led by the Islamic Republic of Iran, to delegitimize their critical reporting about Iranian institutions or the Iranian state," a briefing published by the two rights organizations said.

Testimonies in the briefing suggested that online attacks on women journalists were not limited to death threats against them and their families but also contained a "clear sexualized and gender-based pattern."

In July Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad claimed she was the victim of an alleged plot by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry cited in an inditement by a federal court in New York. Alinejad, who has a high social-media profile and a popular memoir The Wind in My Hair, claimed she was to have been kidnapped from her New York apartment and whisked to Venezuela in a speed boat.

“Covering Iran, even from outside the country, can be a dangerous beat for any journalist,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator. “For women journalists in exile, the burden of fearing for their lives is amplified by smear campaigns and relentless online abuse. Protection by law enforcement and support from social media platforms are critical for them to carry out their work with any sense of safety.”

The International Federation of Journalists last year condemned the “arbitrary raids” in Tehran in which journalists’ material was reportedly seized. The two rights organizations argued that while the severe conditions experienced by women journalists inside Iran were not comparable, the risks faced by women journalists outside Iran should be prevented.

The two organizations urged governments − naming including the United States, Canada, and those in the European Union − should acknowledge the severity of the problem and take specific measures to tackle this online abuse and harassment.

Sixty-six journalists were killed around the world in 2020, with highest total 14 in Mexico, 10 in Afghanistan, nine in Pakistan and eight in India.

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