Log into the Unlock Iran website, and you’ll get to see an alternative version of reality–one where you have been jailed in Iran as a “prisoner of rights” for years, due to your lifestyle, beliefs or maybe your profession. In this world, your family and friends are constantly posting on your Facebook wall with words of encouragement and concern.
A sample post might read: “It’s hard to know what the prison conditions are like since there’s little reporting on it. You’re so brave for going on hunger strike with the other prisoners. Some people around the world have started hunger strikes in solidarity with you guys. I’m really worried about your health though and I hope this will all end and change soon. Thinking of you every day.”
The personalized Facebook timeline experience is a piece of Unlock Iran, a new website launched by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) and Ronik Media. For 10 years, IHRDC has been documenting human rights abuses inside Iran. But the IHRDC databases are dense, peppered with legalese that limits its usefulness to mainstream audiences. Unlock Iran is an attempt to generate awareness of Iran’s many prisoners of rights (over 800 of them are currently in jail) in a digestible way.
In addition to the Facebook timeline, Unlock Iran features prisoner archetypes–a real person who represents a category of people who have been jailed. There are 10 archetypes, including a scientist, a lawyer, a blogger, and a feminist. This was a way to simplify the prisoner of rights issue, says Gissou Nia, executive director of IHRDC. “Instead of overwhelming the international audience with long lists of names they sometimes can’t pronounce, we divided up all the prisoners into different categories,” she says.
For anyone looking for more detailed data, there is also a complete list of all 830 prisoners of rights in Iran. The list includes as many details as possible, including where the prisoner is located, their gender, religion, ethnicity, and what kind of prisoner they are (cyber activist, ethnic minority, etc.). The list is updated weekly, mainly with data from Persian-language websites and the huge network of Iranian web users. The Iranian government isn’t a fan of human rights work, so it’s hard to carry out actual investigations in the field.
On the “Take Action” piece of the site, Unlock Iran encourages people to tweet at world leaders, donate to the cause, and sign their Change.org petition calling on Iran to acknowledge human rights abuses. So far, more than 2,000 people have signed in the few days since Unlock Iran launched.
Nia says that the time is ripe for an effort like Unlock Iran. “There’s a renewed period of engagement between the international community and the Iranian government,” she says. And there’s no better time to launch a human rights campaign than when the world is already watching.