HRW, Ilhan Omar criticized for sharing think tank report attacking Iran activist

Photo shows screenshot of Whitson’s retweet of the article. (via Twitter)

Twitter users have criticized Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson and Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar after they retweeted an article by a think tank which attacked the credentials of an Iranian activist who now works for the US government-funded Voice of America (VoA) news network.

The article by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft’s article argued that US outlets who host Alinejad on their programs must declare the VoA journalist as a US government-paid individual.

The article in question about the credentials of activist Masih Alinejad – who currently works as a journalist for the Voice of America Persian service – was posted by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank created in September which lists Trita Parsi as its vice president.

 Journalist and Author Masih Alinejad speaks onstage during the WICT Leadership Conference at New York Marriott Marquis Hotel on October 16, 2018 in New York City. (File photo: AFP)

Journalist and Author Masih Alinejad speaks onstage during the WICT Leadership Conference at New York Marriott Marquis Hotel on October 16, 2018 in New York City. (File photo: AFP)

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft’s article argued that US outlets who host Alinejad on their programs must declare the VoA journalist as a US government-paid individual.

The think tank’s vice president Parsi also runs the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that claims to be a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization but has faced accusations of lobbying on behalf of the Iranian regime and against the interests of the Iranian diaspora in the US.

Alinejad, who fled Iran after the disputed 2009 presidential election and subsequent crackdown, makes no secret of her work with the US government-funded VoA. In December, she sued the Islamic Republic in a US court alleging a government-led harassment campaign targets her and her family. In the lawsuit filed in Washington DC, Alinejad listed working as a contractor for the VoA network since 2015.

Whitson faced a backlash for retweeting the article, with Iranian activist Roya Boroumand arguing the HRW Middle East director should not have done so.

“Alinejad was outspoken before leaving Iran and before being hired by VOA. Journalists fleeing Iran have diverse views & few professional opportunities other than working 4 US, UK govt funded media. @HRW knows that this is the IRI's accusation against her and still retweets!?” Boroumand tweeted.

Whitson responded by saying: “The article didn't question her credentials as an activist but asked that her US government affiliation be disclosed, just as we at HRW are asked to assure folks that we don't receive funding from any government (we don't). It's not a condemnation to ask to disclose this fact.”

Iranian activists have also lambasted Whitson’s actions, saying that her endorsement of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft’s argument put Alinejad’s brother in jail. Alinejad’s brother Ali and two other family members were arrested in Iran last September.

“At a time when MA's receiving rape & death threats + her brother's held hostage by IRGC, SLW shared a propaganda hit piece on MA and then tried to justify her action saying it's valid in this climate to demand from MA to disclose in the media that she receives a salary from VOA!” Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, an activist, wrote on Twitter.

Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar was also involved in the controversy when she retweeted Eli Clifton, a founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, with an emoji. Clifton had tweeted against Bret Stephens of the New York Times for writing a column quoting Alinejad.

According to a Reuters report from 2014, Alinejad gained prominence in 2014 when she posted a picture of herself jumping in the air in a sunny, tree-lined London street without a hijab (head cover or veil). Iranian state television reacted by criticizing the activist and accusing her of drug addiction, perversion and insanity.

After Alinejad’s photo went viral that year, thousands of inspired Iranian women inside Iran posted photos of themselves without their hijabs.

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Last Update: 11:06 KSA 14:06 - GMT 11:06
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