Right groups call on Iran to stop harassing activists and their families

Masih Alinejad founded the campaign “My Stealthy Freedom” in 2014, encouraging women to share pictures of themselves flouting the strict rules that require women to be covered in public.

ERBIL (Kurdistan24) - Iranian authorities should immediately stop harassing and threatening the families of activists and journalists as a means to silence dissent and criticism, three rights organizations said on Thursday.

On July 27, Iranian state TV’s “20:30” program featured an interview with Mina Alinejad, the sister of Iranian activist Masih Alinejad, in which she publicly denounced her sister for her advocacy against Iran’s compulsory hijab laws. 

During the interview, Mina Alinejad said she was appearing on TV of her own free will, but Masih has said in an Instagram post and a New York Times Op-Ed on July 31 that Iranian authorities have pressured her family to denounce her on state television.

“The longstanding use of Iran’s state media to force activists’ families to appear unwillingly to denounce their relatives shows the level the authorities will stoop to silence state critics,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Masih Alinejad founded the campaign “My Stealthy Freedom” in 2014, encouraging women to share pictures of themselves flouting the strict rules that require women to be covered in public.

There are serious concerns that this broadcast is just the latest example of authorities using one of their well-established tactics to pressure and threaten family members of Alinejad, who is based outside Iran, three human rights organizations, the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Human Rights Watch and Justice for Iran, said in a joint statement.

In March 2018, the BBC filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council against Iranian authorities for their campaign of harassment against BBC Persian staff. The harassment included the arrest and intimidation of employees’ family members based in Iran.

Iran’s government-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has a long history of parading Iran’s critics and their family members on national TV, where they are forced to make so-called “confessions” or public statements meant to discredit them and their causes. 

Last Tuesday, the Iranian state TV broadcasted the confessions of two Peshmerga fighters that were captured by Iranian security forces.

Human rights groups have documented several instances in which dissidents, activists, and journalists were featured in pseudo-documentary videos intended to “prove” their “guilt,” though they apparently did not appear willingly.

In December 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rejected a complaint by two IRIB officials against the European Union’s decision to include them on its human rights sanctions list for broadcasting a series of forced confessions by detainees who had been tortured.

“As the European Court of Justice emphasizes in its ruling against the IRIB chiefs, collaboration with the security apparatus in producing pseudo-documentary videos, and broadcasting coercive confessions are serious human rights violations,” said Shadi Sadr, executive director of Justice for Iran.

Editing by Nadia Riva