Twenty-three international and MENA regional human rights and women’s rights organizations have signed onto a statement condemning the coordinated online targeting of Instagram accounts belonging to Iranian feminist collectives and influencers. These organizations call on Iranian authorities to end their online harassment of rights defenders, especially women human rights defenders (WHRDs). They further urge that Meta, Instagram’s parent company, work with Iranian civil society to ensure the safety of Iranian WHRDs online.
The statement and endorsing organizations follow:
Iran: Halt Attacks against Feminist Accounts on Instagram
We the signatories of this statement, representing international and regional human rights and women’s rights organizations, strongly condemn the latest coordinated targeting of Instagram accounts of Iranian feminist and women’s rights collectives by inauthentic accounts believed to belong to Iranian security forces. This targeting seems to be part of an ongoing campaign of repression against civil society and especially the women’s movement in Iran and is happening at a time when Iranian authorities are pushing back against women’s rights and bodily autonomy in an unprecedented and concerning manner.
We call on Iranian authorities to end their systematic harassment of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and in line with the principles outlined in the “Declaration on human rights defenders” facilitate the work of these WHRDs. Furthermore, we urge Meta to take steps to ensure the safety of its social media platforms for Iranian WHRDs and all others who experience targeted, state-sponsored harassment.
Feminists and WHRDs in Iran face a multitude of pressures in their efforts to promote women’s rights. On the one hand, they contend with discriminatory laws and cultural beliefs that seek to marginalize women and control their bodies and lives. On the other hand, they face systematic repression and security pressures, including interrogations, detentions, travel bans, judicial harassment, and long-term prison sentences intent on forcing them to relinquish their activism.
The broad-based repression and continuous crackdowns carried out by multiple security agencies have forced WHRDs to reduce their activities in the public sphere and instead to rely more on social media to raise awareness and create momentum for their demands. Instagram is one of the more popular platforms in Iran, and as such feminist activists have relied on this platform to carry out their critical work on women’s issues and LGBTQI rights, including raising awareness about gender discrimination, ending gender-based violence, preventing sexual harassment in the public space and in the workplace, advocating an end to discriminatory laws, and promoting reproductive justice and women’s bodily rights.
In the past few years, WHRDs have experienced an increase in online attacks for their positions on certain issues or in response to their social media activity. These attacks are carried out by an array of actors, including ordinary social media users, political opposition groups, and most importantly state security-sponsored hackers and fake accounts. Not only are online accounts targeted but often individual WHRDs are targeted for harassment and defamation. These attacks no matter who the initiators may be often end in the arrest or judicial harassment of the rights activists being targeted. Collectively the targeting of WHRD accounts online has resulted in the silencing of WHRDs and has curtailed their activism.
In the most recent crackdown against women human rights defenders, women’s collectives on Instagram have been targeted, which is one of the most popular platforms among Iranians and unlike other social media platforms, is not blocked in the country. In these attacks thousands of inauthentic followers, believed, based on past attack patterns, to be associated with Iranian security forces, follow accounts of feminist groups or individual influencers and report the accounts with the aim of closing them or having their posts eliminated by Instagram.
In the two months since the attacks against feminist collectives on Instagram have begun, the number of accounts being targeted has increased. The managers of these accounts, feminist collectives as well as feminist influencers, have been forced to make their accounts private, while eliminating hundreds of inauthentic followers daily. To address the threat and harassment by security forces, Iranian feminists have reached out to Meta for support and protection.
As signatories of this statement, we strongly condemn the broad-based attacks against feminist collectives and accounts on Instagram. We remind Iranian authorities that the systematic attacks that security agencies are carrying out against WHRD accounts on Instagram and other social media platforms are in violation of the government’s obligations under the international human rights treaties to which it is a state party. It is also a violation of Iran’s commitment to uphold and protect freedom of expression as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In addition, we call on the Iranian government to end its systematic harassment of rights defenders and instead to facilitate their important work to build a more vibrant, inclusive society intent on promoting equality, ending discrimination, and eliminating gender-based violence.
Furthermore, we stand with Iranian feminists and activists in calling on Meta to investigate these attacks, identify and remove the inauthentic Instagram accounts, and strengthen its response and protection measures for WHRDs who are carrying out their critical work of promoting gender equality and the rights of women and LGBTQI populations.
Meta can only make social media platforms safe for WHRDs in cooperation with civil society. We call on Meta to engage proactively to establish a direct channel of communication with Iranian civil society organizations as trusted partners in this important endeavor.
1- Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality
3- Bent El Nile, Egypt
4- Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan
5- Fe-Male, Lebanon
7-Global Network of Women Peacebuilders
8- Human Rights Sentinel
10- Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IM-Defensoras) / Mesoamerican Initiative for Women Human Rights Defenders
11- International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
12- Makank Fein, Egypt
13- MENA Feminist Collective
14- Miaan Group
15- Project on Middle East Democracy
16- Takatoat, Feminist Collective, Jordan
17- The Gulf Center for Human Rights
18- The Regional Coalition for WHRDs in MENA Region
19- Vigilance for Democracy and Civic State, Tunisia
20- Virtual Activism
21- Women for Women’s Human Rights, Turkey
22- Women Living Under Muslim Laws
23- World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders