Viewers in Iran three weeks ago were treated to spectacle worthy of George Orwell’s 1984. On three separate nights, four women were brought on the main channel of the State-owned TV to confess. These confessions had many similarities: the women’s faces are blurred, as if they are common criminals; they are wearing headscarves fully covering their hair; and they all express deep regret and redemption for removing their compulsory hijab and resisting hijab enforcers in public.

Forced confessions are part of the tool kit of the Islamic Republic of Iran to cower and intimidate the population. It’s not unique to the regime in Tehran but it is used by dictators and autocrats everywhere from Russia and China to North Korea and Venezuela. But here, there was a difference: not only the words were forced, but also the headscarves. As the crime, here, was resisting compulsory hijab.

The Islamic Republic has forced women to wear hijab for 43 years but every year the opposition to its enforcement gets more determined. The clerics and the security forces are treating compulsory hijab as a life-and-death matter for the whole edifice of the Islamic Regime which wants to control women’s bodies. But women have resisted for 43 years. The first major demonstration against Islamization of Iran happened on the International Women’s Day, when 100,000 women in 1979 said no to the introduction of compulsory hijab. Since then, many campaigns have passed the baton of resistance from one generation to the next. Yet, in the past few years, women have become bolder, thanks to campaigns such as White Wednesdays and Girls of the Enghelab Street. A recent #No2Hijab campaign called on women to remove their hijabs in public on July 12, 2022, to challenge the regime’s newly minted “Hijab and Chastity Day”.

The regime also took a hard line. They arrested tens of women, who participated in the campaign and brought four women to TV for forced confessions.

Sepideh Rashno

These four women were not famous, but their videos of resistance had gone viral. As Iranian social media users, we already knew of these women, having savored their acts of resistance. But we only learned other crucial details, like their names and faces after their arrests and during their confessions.  

It felt like being punched in the gut, seeing Elham Farshad, looking cowed and apparently demoralized, sitting limply in a straight-back chair, her face covered in purple bruises. In her video, which was seen by millions, she screams at a cleric ordering a woman to wear her headscarf, with colorful language: “I piss on your turban.”

On a following night, we saw Sepideh Rashno, pale-faced with bruises under her eye, being forced to confess she regrets confronting a hijab enforcer on a bus and filming this confrontation. In the pictures from her Twitter, Sepideh is a beautiful and energetic woman, who is a writer and artist. Sepideh became a hero to millions of women for her resistance.

Many of us saw ourselves in these outraged women. We didn’t have their courage, but we felt their anger and aspired to be as brave. These women were not heroes. They were ordinary women just like millions of us. Their only crime was to resist against the regime’s collaborators—cogs in the Islamic Republic’s war on women.

Social media is battleground of ideas. The forced confessions hit a nerve; it was an offense against all of us. We repeated their names in tweets and put their faces on our profile pictures, not just to spread the news, but to show they are not alone. The tone of most of the tweets making #Where_Is_Sepideh and #We_are_all_Sepideh (in Persian) trending was one of outrage.

Sepideh Rashno

And it is this outrage that is at the center of the televised confessions. “Unfortunately, I got angry” is the common refrain of these women’s forced confessions. They were made to express regret for their outrage. An outrage that spread far and wide with their viral videos—videos that are but the two most recent examples of a trend. The “My Camera My Weapon” campaign, launched by Masih Alinejad, is a call for and a visual collection of such outrage-laden courage against compulsory hijab. The daily death threats against Alinejad are a testament of how much this regime fears women. Indeed, in the televised confessions, the narrator kept repeating that Alinejad was the master criminal “provoking” and “manipulating” these women to act out.

Although such televised confessions have been common in the I.R. regime, this is the first time they pertain to compulsory hijab. Formerly, the accused were to confess to espionage for Israel, affiliation with MEK, and so on. Recently, however, the regime’s fight against women has come to the forefront: A fight against their bodies, clothes, and their cellphone cameras. Their cameras, because the regime is admittedly frightened about the propagation of outrage among social media users and beyond. With these forced confessions, the regime wants to replace this outrage with fear. To make examples out of these women for everyone to see.

As the number of women acting more courageously increased, and as the #No2Hijab campaign picked up momentum, spreading from Twitter to Instagram to the street and back to social media, the regime has started suppressing it more violently. Their goal is to replace outrage and courage with fear. But what these forced confessions show is the regime’s own fear—fear from women’s autonomy over their bodies, from their cellphone cameras, and from anonymous social media users who echo their voices. What these televised confessions are provoking in many Iranians, who see traces of pressure and even torture in the voices and faces of the arrested, is but more outrage. As many protestors have repeated these days: “Our outrage will one day become bigger than your power!”

Update: On August 20, after around three weeks from the forced confessions, a photo of Sepideh was published on the IR official news agency website showing her reading a document in front of a black-worn bearded man (seemed a judge) along the news that Sepideh has been charged with “collusion to disrupt national security”, propaganda against Islamic Republic”, and “promotion of prostitution”—all for her viral video of resistance against a hijab enforcer. Iranians on Twitter are guessing that these charges can lead to a sentence of 15 years imprisonment for her.

Mahya Ostovar is a women rights activist and lecturer of Business Information Systems at NUI Galway, Ireland.

By Masih Alinejad

Masih Alinejad is an Iranian journalist, author and women’s rights campaigner. A member of the Human Rights Foundation’s International Council, she hosts “Tablet,” a talk show on Voice of America’s Persian service.

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My heart goes out to Salman Rushdie. I’m deeply appalled by the attempt on his life and extremely relieved that he survived.

The attack on Rushdie was an act of terrorism. That’s what President Biden and other Western leaders should call it. The media in Iran have been celebrating it, regretting only that the assailant didn’t manage to kill Rushdie. The brutal regime in Tehran has a history of encouraging acts of violence to undermine our freedoms. Why aren’t we taking a stronger stand?

The attack on Rushdie struck especially close to home for me. I, too, have been repeatedly targeted by the vicious regime in Tehran for my criticisms of its hateful policies against women. Two weeks ago, I got a lucky break: Police arrested a man with a loaded AK-47-style rifle in his car after he made a failed attempt to enter my house in Brooklyn. The incident recalls another plot foiled by the FBI in 2021, when federal prosecutors charged four alleged Iranian agents with conspiring to kidnap me and take me back to Iran. At the time, I had to go into hiding for a while; now the FBI has put me under its protection again.

Eugene Robinson: My dinner with Salman Rushdie

Now I find myself living in a safe house with featureless white walls adorned with replica modern paintings; this is where I was when I learned about the attack on Rushdie. It might be safe, but it’s not my home. Until two weeks ago, I lived in a beautiful house in Brooklyn surrounded by loving neighbors who, since my unwilling departure, have been watering my flower beds in solidarity with my plight. Since the attack on Rushdie, the official Telegram channel of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and others in Iran on social media have been praising the would-be killer. They’ve also been saying that I should be next.

Rushdie himself knows only too well what this situation is like. After Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for the author to be killed over his book “The Satanic Verses” (which Khomeini deemed offensive to Muslims), Rushdie ended up living in a safe house for most of the next 10 years. That lifestyle took its toll. By around 2001, he was sick of the living in the shadows and began making public appearances again. He even wrote a memoir about his experience. Everything seemed fine.

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After years on the run, Rushdie might have concluded that he had regained his freedom. Now that assumption is over. In fact, Khomeini’s threat against him was never lifted; Iran’s current supreme leader affirmed the original fatwa on Twitter as recently as 2019, and the bounty for killing Rushdie now stands at more than $3 million. Apologists claiming there is no link with Iran should consider the headline with which the main state newspaper in Tehran celebrated Mr. Rushdie’s wound: “Satan’s eye has been blinded.”

I have often thought of Rushdie and his plight over the past two years when my own journey in and out of safe houses first began. I often wondered how Rushdie coped with the physical and mental hardships of enforced imprisonment. To be in a safe house is like being back in quarantine — except that there seems to be no vaccine against the fanaticism of the Iranian regime.

Matt Bai: The attack on Salman Rushdie is a warning about where we’re headed

The fact that a religious fundamentalist regime issues fatwas against those who criticize them is not surprising. What is shocking is the lack of action from democratic governments around the world, which should be categorically denouncing these actions. In the sleepy town of Chautauqua, N.Y., Rushdie was about to lead a discussion about the role of the United States as a haven for exiled writers and other artists under threat of persecution. The irony is not lost on me.

I have no intention of disappearing from public view. The activist in me wonders how many more times someone on U.S. soil will be a target of the Iranian regime and its supporters before concrete action is taken. The other part of me wonders whether I will be able to do banal, normal things such as walking to the local bakery or sitting outside on a winter day and drinking hot chocolate.

What has driven so much of the intensity of my activism is a sense of obligation and camaraderie with the many women, journalists and human rights activists who have stood up for liberal values inside Iran and paid a steep price. I owe it to them to use the freedoms I have enjoyed in Western democracies to give them a voice. I do not want to die and will have to take precautions, but I intend to live a life free from fear, with a garden and loving neighbors, no matter what it takes. I hope Rushdie recovers quickly. One day I’d like to thank him — and maybe even show him our flower beds.

The Washington Post

Masih Alinejad is an Iranian journalist, author and women’s rights campaigner. She hosts “Tablet,” a talk show on Voice of America’s Persian service.

On July 17, Instagram restricted my access. I still don’t understand why.

What did I do wrong? I still don’t know. Instagram didn’t initially offer any explanation. I might guess that my offense was giving voice to the voiceless in Iran. My 7 million followers on Instagram make for a powerful platform.

On July 12, Iranian women had staged a day of action to challenge the Islamic republic’s National Day of Hijab and Chastity, set up to reinforce the country’s harsh law on forced veiling. Over the next days, I posted many videos on my social media feeds showing women defying the regime’s official dress code.

There were confrontations between these women and the morality police and security forces. In one video from July 16, a hijab-wearing woman films a bareheaded woman on a bus, warning that she will send the recording to the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Another woman on the bus films her in return.

“I know you are filming me now to send it to Masih Alinejad. She cannot do anything to me. But the Revolutionary Guards will destroy you,” says the traditionally attired woman. One of the other female passengers retorts, “I’ll send my video to the whole world.” Other passengers stop the bus and push out the veiled harasser. (The woman who refused to wear the hijab was later arrested.)

That video — which I shared — went viral on social media; it was viewed 2.5 million times on Instagram and more than 1 million times on Twitter. It shows how many women are resisting forced Islamization.

A day later, I suddenly received a message from Instagram informing me that it had restricted my access: “We limit how often you can do certain things on Instagram to protect our community.” For a full day, I wasn’t able to use Instagram Live. There was no further explanation or appeals process. “Tell us if you think we made a mistake,” the note concluded, offering two options, “Tell us” and “OK.”

So I clicked on “Tell us.” I got a pop-up window that said: “Thank you, your response has been recorded.”

That was it.

(Asked to comment, an Instagram representative said the restriction “was placed on Masih’s account incorrectly because of a technical issue,” explaining that the platform automatically issues restrictions “when our systems detect spammy behavior.” The representative added: “It is against our policies to take action on accounts at the request of the Iranian government.”)

Since launching the “My Stealthy Freedom” campaign (1 million followers) against compulsory hijab on Facebook and Instagram in 2014, I have been targeted by the Iranian regime for my activities. I spent months in multiple safe houses last year after the FBI foiled a plot by Iranian agents to kidnap me in New York and whisk me back to Iran. On all my social media platforms, I am targeted by cyberbullies, fake accounts spreading false narratives, and even troll accounts impersonating my page.

But now I also feel targeted by the social media platforms. Earlier this year, I met some fellow Iranians who said they couldn’t find me on Instagram. Odd but true! Despite my officially verified account and millions of followers, I was invisible to the network’s search engines. If you typed my name in the search box, more than 50 accounts popped up — but none was mine. (By comparison, when my husband, a Led Zeppelin fan, typed in “Jimmy P,” the verified account of Jimmy Page came up immediately.)

This was not some random glitch. To me, it seemed that someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make me unfindable on Instagram.

I managed to complain to Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Meta, which owns Instagram. The company fixed the problem after a week, but no one ever explained how it was possible for this to have happened in the first place. (The Instagram representative said there have been “instances where we’ve removed content from [my] account in error, mistakenly believing they broke our rules.”

I’m glad Instagram has admitted its mistakes. Technical issues happen; social media restrictions aren’t necessarily proof of censorship or nefarious influence. But there’s a troubling pattern here. Why did the system restrict my account right at the moment when I was about to promote a protest against compulsory hijab? If algorithms have the power to restrict accounts, can the Iranian regime game those systems in its own favor?

And then there’s the human factor. Many Iranians have been accusing Instagram and Facebook content moderators of deleting or censoring accounts that track the regime’s human rights abuses. In May, Iran International blamed Instagram for removing images of security forces beating protesters and firing tear gas into crowds.

Meanwhile, whistleblowers who had worked for Telus International, a company hired by Instagram to monitor content, claimed that Iranian agents have offered as much as $10,000 to delete and censor accounts (including mine) that report on human rights violations. (Telus International told the BBC that it believed the accusations were false “but that it took them very seriously and had launched an investigation into their merits.” In its statement to The Post, Instagram also said it has seen no evidence for the claims but is investigating as well.)

Last week, when security forces stormed the houses of the activist group Mothers for Justice, they warned members of the group to stop using Instagram to speak up about the killing of their children. That tells you everything you need to know about Instagram’s importance as a means for creating open discussion in Iran.

Social media gives ordinary people a chance to push back against the lies of authoritarian regimes such as Iran’s. Social media companies should not be doing the work of authoritarian governments. They should be helping to spread the truth.


La giornalista e attivista iraniana Masih Alinejad è protagonista del documentario Be my voice. Abbiamo incontrato lei, ricercata dal governo iraniana e sotto protezione, e la regista Nahid Sarvestani Persson

Masih Alinejad mostra sempre il suo volto: è una scelta e una necessità. Vuole e deve mostrarlo perché lei è la voce delle donne iraniane. La sua voce è sempre anche quella di di chi alla propria voce ha dovuto rinunciare. In Be My Voice, documentario della regista Nahid Persson, regista iraniana naturalizzata svedese, Masih Alinejad, giornalista e attivista, racconta la sua battaglia per le donne e contro l’obbligo del velo in Iran. i suo capelli sono un simbolo di libertà.

Anche i fatti di questi giorni in Ucraina dimostrano che basta un attimo per perdere i propri diritti. Masih Alinejad è esempio e guida di un movimento che coinvolge donne in tutto l’Iran. Quello che fa, togliere il velo, è un atto di disobbedienza civile. Dall’esilio, vive sotto protezione negli Usa, non ha smesso di lottare. Dai suoi profili social racconta la sua battaglia e riporta le storie di chi non può farlo direttamente. Be My Voice ha il patrocinio di Amnesty International Italia.

«Questo film vuole dimostrare alla mia gente che una rivoluzione è possibile. Il cambiamento è possibile, ma abbiamo bisogno dell’attenzione del mondo, della politica e dell’opinione pubblica dei paesi occidentali. Vediamo che il regime va avanti grazie alla politica occidentale. Le donne iraniane hanno il coraggio di opporsi al regime, ma devono sentire il sostegno delle loro sorelle occidentali che, se vanno in Iran e mettono il velo, annullano gli sforzi fatti» spiega la protagonista che parla per l’Iran, di un apartheid di genere.

Attraverso i social a Masih Alinejad arriva ogni giorno un’ondata di dolore. «C’è stato un giorno in cui ero sopraffatta da questo dolore e chiedevo di fermare le riprese. Ho fatto del mio dolore la mia forza. Ricevo video di donne che sono state arrestate per essersi tolte il velo, di persone condannate a morte. Sono le loro madri a mandarmi i video come quella di un pugile che è stato giustiziato nonostante avesse solo protestato pacificamente. Quello che io posso fare è essere la voce anche di chi è morto». 

A chi le chiede se non si sente in colpa visto che chi la segue è perseguitato dice che vuole continuare a essere la loro voce, questo non la rende colpevole. «Ci sono tante Rosa Parks, tante suffragette». Il documentario racconta il percorso di Masih Alinejad nella battaglia per i diritti delle donne iniziata come giornalista parlamentare in Iran e poi continuata negli Usa. Ci sono, nel film, i video che le arrivano, i gesti di disobbedienza civile in Iran, come lo scoprirsi il capo, ma anche le proteste di piazza contro il governo. Il messaggio lo rilancia la regista Nahid Persson: «L’Occidente non deve essere amico della Repubblica Islamica, deve sostenere i diritti universali».

«L’Occidente ha paura di tagliare i contatti con l’Iran perché teme che diventi una seconda Corea del Nord» spiega Masih, «in realtà questo già succede. Non mi interessano solo i diritti delle donne in Iran, ma per democrazia e libertà in tutto il mondo. Il governo iraniano ha messo mio fratello in prigione, ha interrogato mia madre, ha minacciato di 10 anni di prigione chi mi manda i video. Io rappresento l’Iran, tutte le persone nel mio paese vivono questo ogni giorno».

A portare Be My Voice nelle sale italiane sarà la Tucker Film insieme al Pordenone Docs Fest – Le Voci del documentario, dove ha conquistato il Premio del pubblico. La data scelta per l’uscita è, simbolicamente, lunedì 7 marzo, alla vigilia della Giornata internazionale della donna.


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I am a woman of color. A woman from the Middle East, from Iran. I immigrated to the United States to be free. I know writing these words will make me politically incorrect in today’s media but I am going to write them anyway as they are the truth and the truth must be told.

“As a women who lived under Sharia law for 28 years, I am afraid of Islam.” There. I said it. 

This is what Middle Eastern women have been tiptoeing around in the #LetUsTalk campaign on Twitter in the past two weeks. It has been like walking on eggshells. Some women in our campaign are afraid to say these exact words because they work in academia and they are worried of being sacked. The journalist who initiated our campaign, Masih Alinejad who has 7 million followers on Instagram and three hundred thousand on Twitter has been shadowbanned on both platforms. 

Yet what we say is just the truth. We, the women, were forced to wear hijab starting at the age seven. We could not get education without wearing hijab. We would have been arrested, lashed, and prisoned if we didn’t wear hijab in public. We were not allowed to sing and dance. We could not travel abroad without the permission of our husbands. Our testimony was worth half a man’s. We inherited half of what a man did. We were not guardians of our children, only their fathers and grandfathers were. Yes, as a women I am afraid of Islam as it as inherently a misogynistic religion. I have experienced it first hand for 28 years and I am not the only one. Millions of women from the Middle East can share personal stories of oppression with you.

I have been told my experience is not of Islam but the extermists ruling in Iran. To those, I say listen to the women who suffered the same in Muslim communities in Canada and the US. Read Yasmine Mohammad’s story. Watch Unorthodox. Even though Unorthodox is about a Jewish woman in New York, she went through the same oppression that we Middle Eastern women did.

But, why does this all matter, you might ask. Because we see a trend to embrace hijab as a symbol of diversity in the West and we, the small minority who escaped Islamic countries are hushed with the excuse of Islamophobia.

As an American I cherish freedom of religion, free market and freedom of speech. I enjoy seeing people of different religions living peacefully together. I can see that as Christians build churches and send their followers to missions, Muslims build mosques and advertise hijab. Yet criticizing Islam has turned into a politically incorrect topic while I am free to criticize Christianity all I want.

February first is Hijab day. Hijab is a symbol. A symbol that women do not have the same freedom as men. It is a symbol of oppression. I know most people who use it as a symbol of diversity are well intended. But they are not well informed. After all, how many of them have worn a scarf for twenty years?

Passport photo of me and my brother, 5 and 6 vs me how I want to look like.

By Elnaz Sarbar

Elnaz Sarbar is a women’s rights activist based in California

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