Masih Alinejad, the founder of My Stealthy Freedom, an online community devoted to fighting the compulsory hijab in Iran, has become the target of a vicious smear campaign on social media that suggests she had been raped. Four years ago, after launching her now wildly popular Facebook page, Iranian state TV ran a fake story suggesting that, while under the influence of drugs in London, Alinejad had taken off her clothes and was raped by three men in front of her son. However, according to Alinejad, “nothing even remotely close to this had ever happened,” she wrote in a 2014 opinion piece for Time describing her ordeal. In recent weeks the ugly fabrication has resurfaced through social media apps such as Instagram and Telegram (a messaging app similar to WhatsApp).
Alinejad believes this new social media smear campaign is in retaliation for a new campaign she launched, called White Wednesdays. In order to protest compulsory hijab, she called on women to wear white headscarves on Wednesdays and men to wear white shirts or wristbands — and the response has been overwhelming.
“Because these days Instagram and Telegram are so popular in Iran, websites close to the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards are spreading the fake news that I was raped,” Alinejad explained in an email to Women in the World. “They are using the old fake news of four years ago but implying that I was raped recently. These fake news sites would not be operating without approval of and blessing from powerful elements within the Islamic Republic — such as the Revolutionary Guards. This attack on me is officially sanctioned.” Alinejad capture screen shots of the postings, each of which had thousands of likes — some of them tens of thousands — before Instagram was able to remove them. Below are two.
According to Alinejad, the implicit, “disgusting and shameful” threat behind the spread these spurious stories is that she, or other women who object to compulsory hijab, could be targeted with rape as a consequence of their political stances. At the same time, the campaign is aimed at shaming her and ruining her reputation. “In Iran, as in many cultures, if a woman is raped, the society blames her,” Alinejad wrote. “If I’m raped, then it must have been my fault.” Nevertheless, the courageous activist is fighting back, calling on the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Iran and Amnesty International to condemn these vile attacks. She has also reported the offending posts to Instagram, which has taken them down for violating their “community guidelines for harassment,” but warned her that they unfortunately “may reappear in a different format or by a different person so you might want to watch for them and continue reporting them.”