“Some don’t think #BlackLivesMatter” tweeted Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, “To those of us who do: it is long overdue for the entire world to wage war against racism.” The tweet was among over 3,500 pieces the Iranian state has published on racism since the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
Racial inequality in the United States has long served as a popular refrain for adversarial states, and Iran has often called for solidarity with Black Americans. During the Iranian hostage crisis, Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the release of black hostages because “blacks for a long time have lived under oppression and pressure in America and may have been sent [to Iran under duress.]” In 1984, Iran issued a stamp commemorating Malcolm X. Current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in response to a wave of protests over American police brutality in 2015, tweeted “It’s ridiculous that even though US President [sic] is black, still such crimes against US blacks continue to occur. #BlackLivesMatter”. Later that year, Iran hosted a conference on “Police Brutality Against Blacks In America” inviting 30 “anti-Israel blacks” from the United States to join.
In the two weeks of protests since Floyd’s death, Iran has significantly increased its English-language output, publishing 30% more posts than in the two weeks prior. The posts have been overwhelmingly negative, with an average sentiment of -0.34. Posts have induced a somewhat negative response in audiences of -0.09. Ayatollah Khamenei himself has posted 10 times with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, driving over 80k engagements. In one post, the Supreme Leader compares American police to ISIS, echoing a common Iranian conspiracy that the United States founded the jihadi group.
Iran itself boasts one the Middle East’s most diverse populations with Persians, by some estimates, accounting for no more than 54% of the total population. Tehran has generally responded to calls for greater autonomy or representation for minorities with censorship, violent crackdowns, and summary executions of protest leaders. Afghan migrants face particularly brutal fates at the hands of Iranian officials: border guards drowned 45 migrants last month and a graphic video of Iranian police watching migrants burn to death went viral last week, sparking protests throughout Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Iranian propaganda wings are unlikely to pass an opportunity to present themselves as defenders of the oppressed.