The Azadi Digital Archive for Human Rights, Justice, and Accountability

On September 16th, 2022 Mahsa Amini, a 22 year old Kurdish-Iranian woman, was arrested while visiting Tehran for wearing an “improper hijab” by the Iranian “Guidance Patrol” (also known  as the Morality Police). She was subsequently pronounced dead by the authorities after allegedly suffering from a heart attack and falling into a coma. However, witness accounts of her being severely beaten by the security forces during her arrest, along with leaked medical analysis indicate that she was a victim of police brutality, and was murdered while in custody. This was a horrifying crime perpetrated against an innocent woman, but unfortunately it would not be the last.

Immediately after her death, protests spread across Iran, focused not only on the death of Ms. Amini, but also as an escalation of an already existing women’s protest movement (know as the “Girls of Enghelab” protests, stemming from an incident in 2017), centered on the mandatory imposition of religious restrictions on Iranian women – and specifically the compulsory wearing of the Hijab while in public.

As a response, the authorities have engaged in beatings, repression, and the killing of citizens and protestors, including schoolchildren. This cannot be allowed to go undocumented. Evidence of these events must be preserved, catalogued, and analyzed for human rights prosecutions, advocacy, history, and research.

Mission Statement:

The Azadi Digital Archive seeks to preserve the social media visual evidence posted by students, citizens, and protestors. The preservation of this material is important because the documentation of history is an integral part of the struggle for human rights and accountability and is the bedrock of future human rights investigations, research, and advocacy.

The authorities have taken steps to try and curtail the recording and dissemination of protests, violence, and repression, by instigating internet blackouts, the confiscation of phones, and the deliberate seeding of mis-information and intimidation of victims and the families of the deceased.

However, it is no longer possible to contain the spread of information in an “information age”.  As a result, unprecedented numbers of visual documentation, video, social media, and other online posts continue to flood out of Iran. These posts are forms of protests themselves, while at the same time documenting the reality of the situation on the ground, and pushing back against dis-information. They form a significant element in the documentation of this moment in Iranian history, and must be preserved for the benefit of visibility, human rights advocacy, future legal, cultural and historical analysis, and as the basis for prosecution for human rights violations.
Modern internet platforms and communication channels are not designed with archiving in mind. The issue of “digital fragility” is very real, making posted materials vulnerable to being taken down due to “community standards” over depictions of violence, legal obligations for corporate entities, or just the stripping of metadata from posts that undermine the probative or documentary value of the materials. Whether through compliance with government mandates, internal regulations, or algorithmic functionality, videos posted to social media can have a lifespan measured in minutes.  The answer to this issue is “Digital Archiving”.

The concept of sustainable, independent digital archives for important forms of digital data is now a well-established practice. Civil society groups such as Mnemonic (formerly the Syrian Digital Archive and the Yemeni Digital Archive) and Bellingcat, along with academic centers such as the Berkeley Human Rights Investigations Lab and OSR4Rights at the University of Swansea have establish tools, protocols, and best practices for the capture and preservation of important Open Source Investigation (OSI) materials.

The Azadi Archive follows a methodological approach derived from these sources, with an emphasis on the long-term preservation of materials for a wide variety of purposes – not just potential legal accountability (which require significant attention to provenance and meta-data), but also for human rights advocacy, journalism, academic research, artistic endeavors, and other forms of cultural and historical analysis. This moment in Iranian history is unique, and has been described as the first Feminist revolution. Its impact will be significant not only in terms of political analysis and human rights, but also in regards to a wider engagement with women’s empowerment and the impact of the modern Feminist ideal. 

We are actively looking for academic and other institutional partners to help strengthen our archival processes and expand our capabilities to preserve this important and powerful moment in Iranian history.  Please contact us if you’d like to discuss: contact@azadiarchive.org

Who we are:

The Azadi Archive was started by Cameran Ashraf, Ph.D. and a coalition of academics and human rights activists to preserve documentary evidence from social media about the ongoing civil protests in Iran.  Cameran is the head of Human Rights at the Wikimedia Foundation, assistant professor of new media and global communications at the Department of Public Policy, Central European University, and co-founder of AccessNow, one of the largest international human rights organisations defending human rights on the internet. In 2010 AccessNow was short-listed by the European Parliament for the 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest human rights honour.

Although the team is mostly Iranian, we come from a variety of ethnic, cultural, religious, and linguistic backgrounds united by our commitment to human rights, legitimate protest, and female empowerment. Due to privacy concerns the team is currently anonymous. We take all precautions to protect them and their important work.