Some of the most incendiary accusations made against Iran’s government by corporate media, celebrity influencers and Western leaders in the past months are little more than fabrications. And most remain uncorrected.
By Setareh SADEQI and Christopher WEAVER
Protests in Iran that ostensibly began as a reaction to the death of a woman in police custody in September 2022 have prompted unprecedented international opposition to its government, not only from the usual Western, Israeli and Saudi suspects, but from celebrity social media influencers with no previous record of commenting on Iranian affairs.
Iran is now the target of a carefully coordinated information war with a single goal to drive international support for regime change by any means – whether through sanctions, armed insurrection, military intervention, or some combination of the three.
Before a largely uncritical audience of billions of admiring Instagram followers who do not speak Farsi and have little to no understanding of Iranian politics or culture, a collection of Hollywood actors, washed-up rockers and top models have pumped out viral posts depicting ghastly abuses of protesters by Iran’s security forces, including retaliatory home demolitions and outright massacres.
While Western media outlets from the BBC to the New York Post have spun out a series of reports accusing Iran of killing more protesters than civilians killed by Russia in Ukraine, think tank pundits and leaders of NATO governments have claimed that Tehran has sentenced 15,000 people to death simply for participating in anti-government demonstrations.
These horrific stories would certainly seem to legitimize the calls for regime change, but there’s just one problem: they are just stories.
Indeed, some of the most incendiary accusations leveled against Iran’s government by legacy media outlets, celebrities and Western leaders in the past months are simply fabrications, while others lack critical context that deadens their impact. And as we will see, few, if any, of the bogus reports and phony social media posts have been retracted or corrected by official fact-checkers.
The examples of regime change disinformation listed below represent a mere snapshot of the propaganda war launched against Iran since protests and violent anti-government riots erupted in September 2022. Taken together, however, they expose the near-total refusal of corporate media and social media fact-checkers to exercise even the most basic standards of integrity whenever Iran’s government is the subject.
BBC Persian accuses Iran of killing more than Russia in Ukraine
On, November 18, BBC Persian posted an image Instagram and Facebook showing a crowd of Iranians cheering as a vehicle was set on fire. “The bloody crackdown on protests has left as many deaths as the war in Ukraine,” read the BBC Persian headline.
This was, at best, an act of journalistic malpractice, as the hyperbolic headline was only explained in the third paragraph of the BBC’s article as referring to two entirely different, arbitrarily chosen date ranges for Iran and Ukraine. The BBC continued, “As human rights organizations report, between September 22 and October 17, 224 protesters died in Iran and in Ukraine between September 1 to September 25th, 216 Ukrainian citizens died in Ukraine.” Which “human rights organizations” provided these vaguely worded statistics was not specified, but it was clear the date ranges were cherry picked.
By this same distorted logic, the BBC could have claimed that “more protesters have been killed today in Iran than died in WWI,” with some later clarification concealed by an obscure asterisk-linked footnote explaining that they were referring only to the one day of the Christmas truce in 1914.
Iran pioneers time traveling technology
CNN falsely claimed that the family home of a female Iranian rock climber, Elnaz Rekabi, had been demolished as punishment for her participating without a hijab in a South Korean competition on October 15, 2022.
Rekabi, a member of the Iranian national team, spoke after the South Korean competition and explained that not wearing a headscarf was unintentional – due to a rushed competition – and not meant as a political statement. English-language websites began running stories that Rekabi had been abducted and her family home had been destroyed by the ‘regime’ in retribution. BBC, The Guardian, Le Monde and others had claimed Rekabi went missing, while raising concerns about her whereabouts. The wave of misinformation prompted the Iranian Embassy to take to Twitter to correct the record. Rekabi then announced on Instagram that she was doing just fine, and on her way home.
The New York Post published perhaps the most embarrassing piece of fake news on Rekabi’s supposed disappearance. The Murdoch-owned tabloid relied on BBC Persia’s supposedly well-connected reporter Rana Rahimpour’s tweets as the source of its now-discredited article. And it appears that the New York Post has not noticed that Rahimpour has deleted every single tweet it linked to in the article. While Rahimpour claimed “Iranian officials” had absconded Rekabi, in reality, she voluntarily boarded a flight with coaches of her own national team and headed home.
As for her cherished family home being destroyed, Iranian local media has asserted that the 30 square meter building was part of a 120 square meter structure built illegally on a property zoned for other uses and owned by Rekabi’s brother, not a family home.
Exactly one year before the competition, on October 18, 2021, Rekabi’s brother began receiving zoning violation notices from The Agricultural Taskforce of Zanjan Province. The chief of justice of Zanjan Province announced on May 25th that the defendant “had removed 90 square meters of unauthorized ‘change of use’ and 30 square meters remained unauthorized.” Because the violation was not resolved, the building was demolished on June 11th – four months before the wardrobe malfunction.
Images of the demolition show green grass and vibrant foliage on the trees around the home, indicating that it took place during June – not in November, when it is often below freezing and the leaves have fallen. Clearly the event was a traumatic experience for Rekabi’s brother, and not related to his sister’s missing hijab or any other future event.
If CNN’s version of events is somehow true, it is unclear why they have failed to report on the Iranian government’s time traveling powers.
1- Not a family home but a resort
2- Not Elnaz Rekabi’s property but her brother’s property
3- Not destroyed for any political reason but due to illegal construction
4- The destruction was on 11th June 2022, months before the recent events!#ShameonBBChttps://t.co/064Uj6jTbS
— Sarbaz Roohulla Rezvi (@SarbazRezvi) December 4, 2022
15,000 protesters sentenced to death? Trudeau, Hollywood celebs denounce Iran on the basis of a phony story
Joined by noted Iran scholars Viola Davis, Elijah Wood, and Sophie Turner, as well as boomer guitar talk box pioneer Peter Frampton, the Canadian Prime Minister and World Economic Forum’s representative in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau, posted a graphic on social media claiming that Iran “sentences 15,000 protestors to death – as a ‘hard lesson’ for all rebels.”
A Newsweek story pushing the extraordinary claim that Iran had sentenced 15,000 people to death for protesting immediately went viral on social media. Yet the claim has been debunked by even official “fact-checkers” normally hostile to Iran’s government. These include the BBC, The Guardian, Time Magazine. While other celebrities suddenly weighing in on Iranian affairs have deleted their posts, Elijah Wood’s tweet expressing horror at the totally fabricated statistic of 15,000 condemned protesters remains active, with over 6000 likes.
The basis for this pile of disinformation was an official request by the Iranian parliament calling for stronger measures exclusively against violent rioters. It read as follows: “227 [of 290] MPs asked the judiciary to firmly respond to the provocateurs in recent riots… We the representatives of this nation ask all officials of the country, including the Judiciary Branch, to deal as soon as possible with the ‘muharibs,’ which like ISIS used all sorts of weapons to attack people and their property, in a way that teaches others a lesson in accordance to the law […] so that it is proved to everyone that the lives, properties, security and honor of our dear people are the redlines of this establishment and it will not compromise with anyone in these matters.”
Muharib, a term specifically used to define a criminal offense roughly translated as “armed thuggery,” is distinct from a reference to protestors; it refers specifically to people carrying weapons and engaging in violent activity. According to legal statutes, muharibs are to be executed or exiled.
The mostly symbolic request from Iran’s parliament to the judiciary did not refer to protestors, nor did the actual law for punishing “armed thuggery” necessitate execution. In response to the request, a member of Iran’s judiciary responded with irritation, stating, “You should ask me to implement the law, not dictate the nuances to me of what to do or what not to do.”
So where did the utterly bogus claim of 15,000 Iranians sentenced to death for merely protesting their government originate from?
His tweet was quickly followed with one by Karim Sadjadpour, who claimed without a shred evidence that Iran had jailed 15,000 protesters. Sadjadpour is a Beltway-based Iranian anti-government activist employed by the NATO state-funded Carnegie Endowment.
In the last 8 weeks Iran’s regime has killed over 300 protestors, imprisoned nearly 15,000, and threatened to execute hundreds more, yet Iran’s women persist. Today female university students removed their forced hejab and chant, “I am a free woman.” pic.twitter.com/OjQZ6zHfG5
— Karim Sadjadpour (@ksadjadpour) November 8, 2022
Despite the fact that Memarian and Sadjadpour reside well outside Iran, dependent entirely on elite US imperial institutions for their livelihoods, Reader Supported News claimed they were “prominent figures in Iran…calling for a response from foreign governments.”
The little girl who died three times
On September 28, billionaire child fantasy author J.K. Rowling retweeted a post that read as follows: “Heartbreaking 💔 Iranian father who promised to live long enough to dance at his daughter’s wedding ends up dancing at her funeral after she was killed by the Iranian morality police for not covering her hair.” The viral tweet was accompanied by video clip from the Azerbaijan drama series ‘Ata Ocagi’ (Hearth of Father) from 2018.
— Suribelle 🚩 (@Syribelle) September 30, 2022
This man is an actor I personally know. His name is Gurban Ismayilov and this scene is from a famous TV drama Ata Ocağı (Hearth of Father) aired 4 years ago. https://t.co/SJP6tNZa0o (starts at 18:40) https://t.co/7gUDDIaxqr
— Cavid Ağa (@cavidaga) September 29, 2022
Just imagine being killed by the Syrian “regime,” then succumbing to Covid before being cruelly cut down by the Ayatollah’s security services. Few, if any, have suffered such horrible, multiple deaths at the hands of so many official enemies and viral threats. The reincarnation record might only be broken if the fake dead girl rises again just to be taken out a fourth time in a NATO operation led by Lord Voldemort.
پدری که قول داده بود به دخترش که در روز عروسی دخترش برقصد، دخترش به دلیل بیماری کرونا در گذشت؛او در حال تشیع جنازه رقصید…
صحنه ای دردناک
حتی سنگها و درختها گریستند😔🖤 pic.twitter.com/XLLry73Qad
— Elham (@Elham47353821) April 20, 2021
Above tweet: “The daughter of the father who had promised her he would dance at her wedding, died of Covid-19; so he danced at her funeral….a scene so tragic even the stones and trees cried.”
UN Iran expert’s imaginary ban on Kurdish names
During a November 2022 press conference at the United Nations, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, falsely claimed that Iran bans Kurdish names from being registered.
In reality, the Iranian government’s online official registry of names shows at least 5686 people have registered their names as Zhina, which was Mahsa Amini’s Kurdish name. Rehman stated:
“On the subject of Kurdistan and the issue from Kurdistan, as you know, Kurdish people historically and in contemporary terms have been denied their fundamental human rights. And I will just give you one example: Zhina is a Kurdish name but she was not allowed to use that name on the national register because the state does not allow Kurdish identity or Kurdish expression in any shape or form,”
Below is a screenshot of the directory for the official registrar of names in Iran showing that at least 5686 people have been named Zhina, and that it is still a valid name.
Why the UN still considers a name like ‘Javaid Rehman’ to be synonymous with expertise on the internal affairs of Iran is a mystery, however.
Former footballer Ali Karimi scores hat trick of blatant lies
A former Iranian football star with 14.4 million followers on Instagram named Ali Karimi has played an especially influential role in the current unrest in the country of his birth. He has also contributed to three widely disseminated lies. Despite his lack of credibility, the Scrooge-like Karimi was warmly received by the German President this week in a bid to bolster support for the unrest.
Ali has claimed the picture below shows an Iranian protester shot dead by a DShK heavy machine gun. The Dushka or DShK 1938, fires 12.7×108-millimeter rounds, which are nearly ten percent larger than .50 caliber rounds which are so devastating that their shockwave can cause lethal neurological damage.
Ali’s bogus image was immediately debunked by one of his own fans (see the text above circled in red). “I loved and still love Ali Karimi,” the fan stated, “but to be honest, this is a picture of my friend in the neighboring village, after he had a motorcycle accident a few months ago”. The fan then posted the picture on the right side and stated, “This is the full picture from my own phone.”
The man in the picture turns out to be Ali Hamidvand, a resident of the village of Varineh in Hamedan Province. His leg was amputated after a motorcycle accident which took place on July 13, 2022. In a December 2022 interview, an indignant Hamidvand asked the judiciary to take action against Ali Karimi, accusing him of exploiting a photo of Hamidvand to advance his cynical regime change campaign. Hamidvand stated that Karimi had dishonored him and his family during an agonizing and traumatic experience.
Next, Ali Karimi took images of a bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2016 and falsely portrayed them as an Iranian state-sponsored massacre in the Kurdish city of Javanrood, Iran.
In another case of blatant deception, Karimi snatched a photo from the 2012 holiday fundraiser of a Pakistani charity showing a distraught young girl cradling her younger brother in her lap in the midst of a scorching heat wave, and falsely portrayed its contents as depicting Baluchi children abused by Iran’s security forces. He wrote: “These people’s rights have always been violated throughout their lives. They didn’t deserve bullets. #MyIran #Sistan_Baluchestan”.
Non-existent dead person turns out to be living Iranian rapper
A person named Nadia Arefani has been presented as a casualty of the lethal violence of Iran’s security forces. However, the images of Arefani circulating on social media depict a not-very famous, but still very much alive Iranian rapper known as Niloufar. And Arefani herself may not even exist at all.
The photo of Niloufar was first shared by a Twitter user who had been encouraging Iranians to take up arms against their government, painting violent insurrection as the path to freedom and independence. Claiming the headshot depicted someone named Nadia Arefani, the Twitter user said they were killed by the Iranian police. The claim was later promoted on the Women’s Committee NCRI Twitter account, an affiliate of the Saudi and Israeli-backed MEK cult, which is openly devoted to fomenting regime change in Iran. Many social media users quickly pointed out that the person depicted in the post was an Iranian rap musician named Niloufar.
Bryan Adams lies about Iranian singer’s arrest
Washed-up 1980’s pop-rock balladeer Bryan Adams claimed this his supposed friend, Iranian singer Sirvan Khosravi, “has been arrested in Iran for supporting the women’s rights movement against the murder of Mahsa Amini and the rule that women are not free to wear a hijab how they wish.”
Adams’ tweet earned close to 9000 likes, even though he tagged the wrong account – a random egg with 31 followers – suggesting he was not as well acquainted with Khosravi as he claimed.
My friend and fellow singer @sirvankhosravi has been arrested in Iran for supporting the women’s rights movement against the murder of Mahsa Amini and the rule that women are not free to wear a hijab how they wish. #freesirvankhosravi #mahsaamini pic.twitter.com/jm9Zj4wvib
— Bryan Adams (@bryanadams) October 2, 2022
Adam’s tweet prompted Khosravi to take to his Instagram account to correct the record. He stated that he and his brother Zaniar had never been held by Iran’s security services or jailed: “Zaniar and I are not detained, don’t worry. Our biggest wealth is your support and love. Be assured that we’ll stand by you under any condition.”
A NATO think tanker’s “rent-a-crowds”
Barbara Slavin, the former director of the “Future of Iran Initiative” at the NATO and Saudi-sponsored Atlantic Council, claimed the massive rallies held across Iran in support of the government represented “rent-a-crowds” filled with desperate people “promised free lunch to chant these tired slogans”.
The notion that the ranks of pro-government rallies are inflated due to the enticement of free, government-distributed drinks or snacks is an ongoing trope repeated in legacy media since Iran’s revolution in 1979. What is never mentioned, however, is that at large public gatherings, it is common for individuals to offer drinks and food as a way of showing hospitality and religious piety. Furthermore, in a theocratic system like Iran’s, the government represents a religious institution, which makes it no different than a church providing free coffee and doughnuts. Do millions of Americans attend church every week simply for the free refreshments?
Perhaps the most underreported event in the world is the Arbaeen Pilgrimage, in which over 25 million people walk for days, for over 50 miles, from Najaf to Karbala. Along the route, they are treated to “copious” free food, free drinks and free accommodation provided primarily by Iranians. This all takes place in the context of the same cultural tradition that Western media misinterprets to delegitimize Iran’s massive pro-government protests.
However, unlike with the Arbaeen Pilgrimage, no photographic evidence exists of food distribution during any of the recent massive pro-government rallies in Iran – not a food truck in sight. A rally of 100,000 people would require approximately 11 tons of food (at 100 grams per serving) to accommodate, which would make images of food distribution impossible to ignore. Yet Slavin’s lazy claim was not accompanied by a single piece of visual proof. Nor did she explain how free food was sufficient to motivate Iranians to pour into the streets for their government in the midst of blistering snow storms.
Euronews reports shootings of protesters across Iran, produces zero evidence
The Persian website of Euronews posted a series of random images alleging that Iran’s security forces had opened fire on protesters across the country.
According to Euronews, “news circulating on social media” indicated that protests were held in Tehran and other cities including Isfahan, Arak, and Sanandaj. It then claimed that “some other users also reported shootings around Azadi Square as well as in Isfahan and cities in the west of the country.”
As seen below, the report by Euronews contained revealing caveats like “based on news published on social media”; “Euronews cannot verify the authenticity of the news”; and “it is said that” the clashes occurred.
Though Euronews had no evidence to support its incendiary claims, nothing seemed to restrain its editors for going to print. Because in a Western media culture overflowing with regime change zealotry, the news matters less than the narrative.