Nationwide protests against the Islamic regime in Iran have continued there for over seven weeks with no sign of stopping and the mullahs are growing impatient. Last week, the Iranian parliament voted to execute protesters who had been arrested, which amounts to roughly 14,000 (known) people.
Only a few days later, the regime announced they are actively pursuing journalists working with the network Iran International – and even arrested the sister of slain wrestler Navid Afkari, falsely accusing her of being a journalist for Iran International. Yet there’s one place Iranian regime leaders and supporters are safe: Twitter.
In the aftermath of the regime’s announcement that they are pursuing journalists, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Fars News agency released a graphic on social media with the faces and names of Iranian journalists abroad with the text, “wanted dead or alive.” These threats were amplified across that platform by pro-regime accounts, including those with tens of thousands of followers, with comments comparing the journalists to Salman Rushdie, the author who for decades has lived under a fatwa, issued by the Islamic regime, to kill him.
In August, Rushdie was brutally stabbed at a public lecture by a supporter of Ayatollah Khamenei. The same week as the attack on Rushdie, Khamenei’s response was to tweet that the fatwa remains in effect for anyone who kills Rushdie.
Activists and Journalists in UK notified that they are in danger
According to UK sources, hundreds of activists and journalists based in the UK have been notified by UK security that their lives are in danger by the Islamic regime over their support for the protests in the past month – or in the case of journalists, simply covering the demonstrations against the Islamic regime.
Iran also has a long history of kidnappings and attempted kidnappings of journalists on foreign soil, including the attempted kidnapping of Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad in New York last year. Yet apparently none of this is enough for these accounts calling for violence to be removed on Twitter.
Legally speaking, the question of free speech is difficult to define, but one thing is certain: speech that explicitly calls for violence against a person or group of people, especially when it is likely to happen and possible to carry out, is not protected speech. For years, Ayatollah Khamenei and his minions have used Western social media and the Western values of free speech to propagate their nefarious extremist ideology across social media in multiple languages.
Meanwhile, the application itself is blocked in Iran by the Islamic regime for its 85 million civilians. If a dictator denies free speech to 85 million of his own citizens, why on earth does Twitter feel obligated to protect that dictator’s “right” to free speech?
Even this past week, when the 227 members of the Iranian parliament voted for the death penalty for the arrested protesters, the ayatollah was busy using Twitter to spread disinformation, falsely accusing the US and Israel of instigating the protests.
He even tweeted about the terror attack in Shiraz, which many believe the regime itself instigated, in order to distract from the protests. The regime officials blamed ISIS and accused Israel of orchestrating with ISIS to carry out the attack.
SADLY, THE extremist rhetoric of the ayatollah – the leader of the US-designated terrorist organization, the IRGC, and who controls multiple proxy terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah – is nothing new. For years he has personally used the social media platform to spread calls to violence, antisemitism, and disinformation against Israel, the US, and the entire West, leading to attacks on innocent civilians on foreign soil.
The most recent and obvious example is the attack on Rushdie. Such rhetoric isn’t simply hateful or reprehensible, like much of the antisemitic and racist content on social media, but actually poses a threat of danger. For that reason, in just a few days a petition to remove the ayatollah from Twitter received over 70,000 signatures.
The Islamic regime in Iran has become an expert in using the perks of Western society to sow discord and disinformation on social media networks. Ayatollah Khamenei is a huge part of that problem and the ringleader for all manner of human rights atrocities across the world. Twitter must act to protect journalists and innocents everywhere by removing him from Twitter, as well as accounts promoting violence and calling for the assassination of members of the press.
The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC and a human rights activist.