Stoning Iran: Examining western media’s disinformation campaigns against Iran


A few years ago, I co-authored a chapter titled ‘Stoning Iran: Strategic Narratives, Moral Authority and the Reporting of a Stoning Sentence’ in a collection of essays published by I.B Tauris with the title ‘Reporting the Middle East’ (2017).

The chapter involved a critical analysis of a case of ‘sham reporting’ on Iran where many facts were omitted, twisted or distorted. It was a classic case of what today we call disinformation campaigns. Over the past couple of months we have found many more cases to study.

During and after the recent protests and riots in Iran, many reports were published in Western media. Some of these reports include disturbing details about rape, sexual assault or even accounts of alleged shootings to genitals of female protesters by Iranian ‘Basijis’ or voluntary forces. Many of these reports are by junior journalists with absolutely no experience or knowledge of Iran. Almost all of them are based on anonymous ‘witnesses’ or ‘victims’, whose claims are not independently verified. Some reports are by reporters who have direct links to royalist opposition groups, yet their political affiliations are hidden by Western media. Others reporters appear to have links to Western intelligence agencies which indicates political interests behind their reports.

One of the highly infuriating and disturbing reports was published in the Guardian with the title ‘Iranian forces shooting at faces and genitals of female protesters, medics say’ (8 Dec 2022). It quotes anonymous ‘doctors’ who say Basijis shoot at women’s genitals ‘because they have an inferiority complex. And they want to get rid of their sexual complexes’.

The text is a classic example of Orientalist mentality in othering and stereotyping. A highly dramatized and emotionally charged report, resembling Hollywood-style anti-Iran propaganda films such as “Not Without My Daughter”.

The report is co-authored by a young reporter named Deepa Parent. Her CV in LinkedIn indicates that before becoming an instant ‘Iran expert’ she worked in India for a property and relocation agency. Her profile on the Guardian shows that she has authored or contributed to 11 reports on Iran in just over a few weeks.

The co-other of the above report is another young reporter named Ghoncheh Habibiazad. Her LinkedIn profile states that she is employed by Marjan TV Network. This is the parent company of Manoto TV channel, a pro-monarchy network with the mission of glorifying the Pahlavi dynasty, one of the worst dictatorships of the 20th century. She has contributed to 6 reports on Iran in the Guardian just over a few weeks. Yet the Guardian introduces her to readers simply as ‘a digital news producer based in London’.

Almost all professional and ethical principles of journalism are violated to produce anti-Iran propaganda. As we remember from similar ‘rape’ and ‘viagra’ stories in Syria and Ukraine, these emotionally charged reports are usually cooked by Western intelligence services and fed to the media to ignite international anger in line with Western ‘strategic interests’, i.e war-mongering.

It’s a shame that apart from the usual war-mongering and sanctions-supporting media outlets such as Fox News and CNN, today even the Guardian and Channel 4 News in the UK have become sell outs, aligned with Western war machines.

Another example is an ‘exclusive’ Channel 4 News television report, by another young reporter named Secunder Kermani (published  Feb , 2023). He is a British reporter of Pakistani descent again with zero experience in or knowledge of Iran in his LinkedIn CV.

His report is a disturbing visual account of claims about rape and sexual assault by anonymous sources who are allegedly ‘Iranian female protesters’. Interestingly Kermani was the BBC correspondent in Pakistan. So as all BBC World Service employees,  he was on the UK Foreign Office payroll.

The big question is why do media outlets such as the Guardian and Channel 4 News commission these young journalists with zero knowledge and experience on Iran to produce such highly sensitive reports about Iran? Are there no other experienced journalists available? Perhaps not all experienced and respected journalists would go along with publishing such emotionally charged reports based on anonymous sources whose claims are by-and-large unverified. Reports that mainly serve as propaganda for Western intelligence services.

Something more interesting in Kermani’s Wikipedia profile, is that prior to being promoted to his post in Pakistan, this young reporter worked on ISIS recruits in the UK and ‘secured a number of exclusive interviews with members of ISIS’.

God knows how such a young journalist ‘secured’ exclusive access to ISIS suicide bombers! But such ‘experience’ gives us some indication of how he ‘secured’ exclusive access to ‘Iranian female protesters’ who claim to have been raped or sexually assaulted by Iranian police or security agents.

Of course, finding asylum seekers who would say anything to secure residence in the West, or members of opposition groups who would do so, is not as difficult as finding ISIS suicide bombers. But it is clear how in different ways both can serve the political interests of Western governments.

These disinformation campaigns backed by Western governments and intelligence agencies are actually very similar to the act of stoning. In the imperialist and colonialist discourse of Western governments and their mainstream media, Iran is guilty and should be severely punished. Iran is not an obedient subject of the imperialist system code named the ‘International Community’. Iran has not submitted to arrogant Western demands. 44 years after the Islamic Revolution, Iran remains an independent state perusing its legal rights and national interests.

It appears that Western governments have come to the conclusion that even imposing barbaric and vicious economic sanctions were not helpful in breaking Iran’s resilience. They are trying another form of punishment: stoning Iran with sham ‘investigative reports’ and fake news. They will fail again. The truth will prevail.

Professor Shahab Esfandiary is an Associate Professor at University of Arts, Tehran

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