A viral infographic that claimed the government of Iran has sentenced 15,000 protesters to death was uncritically reposted and signal-boosted by several top left-leaning celebrities on Monday, including actresses Viola Davis and Sophie Turner — and perhaps most disturbingly, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who responded to the disinformation with an official condemnation as the Canadian head of government.
The Iranian government may very well be capable of sentencing large amounts of protesters to death, but as a matter of fact, it has not yet done so. Only two confirmed death sentences have been handed down in connection with the wave of protests gripping Iran and neither has been carried out yet.
Other protesters have been charged with offenses that often carry the death penalty in Iran, such as “being an enemy of God,” but death sentences have not been imposed yet and their numbers do not approach 15,000 in total.
Several high-profile figures, including Viola Davis, Sophie Turner, and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have had to delete posts containing false information about demonstrators in Iran being sentenced to death. https://t.co/xFyr40HpUq
— BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) November 16, 2022
Iran Human Rights, a group based in Norway, said on Monday that “at least 20 protesters are currently facing charges punishable by death.”
International com. must strongly warn the I.R. of the consequences of executing protesters. Summoning ambassadors and implementing stronger effective human rights actions against state officials are amongst the consequences EU & Norway must consider | https://t.co/bX819N1k11
— Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam (@iranhr) November 14, 2022
The BBC on Wednesday noted some hardline Iranian parliamentarians have called for mass executions and Iran has a grim history of killing dissidents, but the judiciary has not issued such orders against today’s protest movement as of yet.
False claims that Iran sentenced 15,000 protesters to death went viral on social media with help from Viola Davis, Justin Trudeau, Sophie Turner, and Newsweek. While the misinfo was based on kernels of truth, it was the misinfo that took off. https://t.co/0VYDV6PmZp
— Benjamin Goggin (@BenjaminGoggin) November 15, 2022
NBC News reported the viral claim of 15,000 death sentences apparently began as an Instagram infographic that announced “Iran sentences 15,000 protesters to death as a ‘hard lesson’ for all rebels.”
The infographic was eventually tagged with a “false information” warning on many Instagram posts, including the one from Sophie Turner, but it continues to propagate on Twitter without warnings.
Twitter was where Trudeau entered the story, with a now-deleted post that said:
Canada denounces the Iranian regime’s barbaric decision to impose the death penalty on nearly 15,000 protestors. These brave Iranians were fighting for their human rights – and we continue to stand united in support of them, and united against the regime’s heinous actions.
“The post was informed by initial reporting that was incomplete and lacked necessary context. Because of that, it has since been deleted,” Trudeau’s office said after the post was removed.
“We should not lose sight of the fact that one person has already been sentenced to death, and that Iranian parliamentarians should not call for any death sentences to be imposed. Already, dozens of protesters have been killed by the regime’s security forces,” a spokesperson for the Canadian government told CNN.
As NBC hastened to point out, the Iranian regime has taken plenty of heinous actions that are worth standing against. International human rights organizations are deeply concerned about Tehran’s brutal crackdown on protesters, and about the brutality of the incident that sparked the protests, the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini by a squad of “morality police” for not wearing her mandatory headscarf tightly enough.