We all know there’s nothing intelligent about the abuse of human rights in Iran. So what can we learn about the situation facing women, ethnic and religious minorities, political dissidents, and indeed all Iranians, from an artificial intelligence (AI)? IranWire sat down with ChatGPT, the head-turning conversational “language model” made by the tech startup OpenAI, to find out.
ChatGPT has access to huge amounts of information and in just seconds is able to generate original texts from its datasets. But when we asked ChatGPT about the repression of political dissidents, for example, we were told about the 1990s Chain Murders and the 2009 Green Movement; nothing about the 1988 executions of thousands of dissidents. Anyone asking ChatGPT about political violence in Iran – who did not themselves have prior knowledge of the history – would have left the exchange with an embarrassing and dangerous gap in their understanding.
Getting the AI to be specific can also be a challenge. Questions about the violations of the rights of particular groups receive only general answers. If you want to know how many Christians were arrested last year, for example, you have to keep asking and still you may not find out.
What does our experiment tell us about the future of reporting on Iran?
Nothing can replace the human qualities of detailed storytelling, emotional insight, historical perspective or the search for new facts that citizen journalists and experienced reporters and editors bring to their work.
But it's also true that too few people in the world today – still now, months after the public death of Mahsa Amini, and the ongoing protests that followed – have even a basic understanding of the tragic complexity and tenacious optimism that is modern Iran. If they can learn something from ChatGPT then all the better. And then they can come to IranWire and our compatriot outlets, around the world, to see the faces of the Iranian people, read their names, learn their fears and hopes, and to support them as they move to a freer future.
ChatGPT's text has been cut for brevity in certain places, and some responses have been reordered, but none of the answers have been otherwise edited.
Hi, there, ChatGPT. Tell us about yourself in less than 50 words.
Hello! I am an artificial intelligence language model developed by OpenAI, designed to generate human-like text based on the input provided to me. I have been trained on a diverse range of texts and can answer questions, hold conversations, and generate creative writing.
Thanks. Do you know what happened 44 years ago in Iran, on February 11, 1979?
Yes, I am aware of the event that occurred 44 years ago in Iran on February 11, 1979. That was the date of the Iranian Revolution, which saw the fall of the monarchy and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The revolution was a mass movement led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who became the Supreme Leader of the country after the monarchy was overthrown. The revolution resulted in a significant shift in the political and religious landscape of Iran and has had a lasting impact on the country and the region.
You're right! And what has been the result of the establishment of the Islamic Republic with respect to human rights in Iran?
The establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 has had a mixed impact on human rights in the country. While the revolution promised greater equality and justice for all Iranians, the reality has been far more complex. In the early years of the Islamic Republic, the new regime implemented a number of policies aimed at promoting Islamic values and suppressing dissent, which had a negative impact on some aspects of human rights. For example, there have been restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and religion, and the regime has used force to suppress political opposition.
However, it is important to note that the situation has improved in some areas in recent years. For example, access to education and healthcare has improved, and there have been some steps taken to address issues of discrimination and inequality. [...]
The human rights situation in Iran is a subject of concern and criticism. The government has been accused of widespread restrictions on civil liberties, including limits on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, as well as widespread human rights abuses including arbitrary detention, torture, and execution of political prisoners. There are also restrictions on the rights of women, minorities, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Despite some efforts by the government to address human rights issues, many of these problems persist and are major sources of international criticism.
Sounds awful. Why does the Iranian government restrict the liberties of women, minorities, the LGBT community, and other people?
The reasons for the restrictions on civil liberties and human rights abuses in Iran are complex and multifaceted. They are rooted in the country's political and social structure, as well as its history and cultural traditions.
The government of Iran is an Islamic theocracy, and the country's laws and policies are based on a strict interpretation of Islam. This has led to restrictions on personal freedoms and individual rights, especially for women and minority groups, who are seen as challenging traditional gender and religious norms.
In addition, the government has a history of suppressing dissent and opposition, and has used the restriction of civil liberties as a means of maintaining control and power. This has included the targeting of political dissidents, ethnic and religious minorities, and other groups seen as a threat to the government's authority.
However, it is important to note that there are also many individuals and organizations within Iran working to promote and defend human rights, and there have been efforts by the international community to address these issues through diplomacy and advocacy.
Which group in Iran experiences the worst abuses of their human rights?
It is difficult to say which group in Iran experiences the worst abuses of their human rights, as different groups face different types of abuses and restrictions. However, some groups that are particularly vulnerable and have been subjected to widespread human rights abuses include:
- Political dissidents and opposition figures: The government has a history of suppressing dissent and opposition, and political dissidents, activists, and journalists are often targeted for arrest, detention, and abuse.
- Women: Women in Iran face widespread discrimination and restriction of their rights, including limitations on their freedom of speech, assembly, and association, as well as restrictions on their ability to participate fully in public life.
- Ethnic and religious minorities: Iran's ethnic and religious minorities, including Kurds, Arabs, Balochis, and members of the Baha'i faith, face widespread discrimination and abuse, including arbitrary detention, torture, and execution.
- LGBT individuals: The LGBT community in Iran faces widespread discrimination and abuse, including arbitrary detention, torture, and execution.
- It's important to note that these abuses often intersect, and individuals who belong to multiple minority groups may face even greater risks and vulnerabilities. The situation is constantly evolving, and the human rights situation in Iran remains a subject of ongoing concern and criticism.
[…] The abuse of the rights of any one group is a violation of the rights of all individuals, and it undermines the dignity and equality of all people. The universal declaration of human rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and it is the responsibility of governments to uphold these rights and protect their citizens from abuse and discrimination. When the rights of one group are violated, it has a harmful impact on society as a whole and threatens the stability and security of the country.
Do you have any specific historical instances that you can give me about the abuse of political dissidents?
Yes, here are a few examples of the abuse of political dissidents in Iran:
- The Green Movement: After the disputed presidential election of 2009, widespread protests erupted in Iran, with opposition supporters taking to the streets to demonstrate against what they saw as widespread electoral fraud. The government responded with a brutal crackdown, arresting thousands of protesters, opposition figures, and journalists, and subjecting many to torture, abuse, and other forms of mistreatment.
- The Chain Murders: In the late 1990s, a series of political assassinations took place in Iran, targeting writers, intellectuals, and opposition figures. The government was widely believed to have been behind the murders, but the investigations into the deaths were shrouded in secrecy, and the truth about what happened remains unclear to this day.
[…] You forgot to mention the 1988 execution of thousands of political dissidents on the order of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. People who remain key figures in Iran – for example, the current president, Ebrahim Raisi who was elected in 2022 – played a role in carrying out these executions.
[…] The 1988 execution of thousands of political prisoners in Iran is a dark chapter in the country's history, and a stain on the human rights record of the Islamic Republic. The mass execution of political prisoners, including members of opposition groups and those suspected of being involved in anti-government activities, was carried out on the orders of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran at the time. The precise number of those executed is not known, but human rights groups estimate that thousands of prisoners were put to death, in what has been described as a systematic and widespread abuse of human rights.
The events of 1988 continue to have a profound impact on the political landscape of Iran, and they have been widely criticized by the international community. The current president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, who was elected in 2022, has been implicated in the executions and has faced criticism for his role in the events of 1988. The mass execution of political prisoners is a reminder of the ongoing need for accountability for human rights abuses, and for the protection of the rights and freedoms of all individuals, regardless of their political views or beliefs.
Some people say key opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi [...] was also implicated in the 1988 executions. How do you explain the fact that one of Iran's main opposition leaders today was an agent of a bloody repression in the past?
The fact that key opposition figures in Iran have been implicated in human rights abuses in the past, including the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, highlights the complex and often tragic history of the country. It is not uncommon for political figures to have a checkered past, and to have been involved in acts that are later seen as reprehensible.
In the case of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, he was a senior official in the government at the time of the mass executions in 1988, and it is widely believed that he played a role in the implementation of the policy. However, it is important to note that the circumstances of the time were highly charged and politically turbulent, and it is difficult to fully understand the motivations and actions of individuals who were involved in such events.
It is also worth noting that individuals and political movements can evolve and change over time, and that it is possible for individuals to renounce past actions and work towards a more just and equitable society. In the case of Mousavi, he has become a leading opposition figure in Iran, and has been a vocal advocate for political reform and human rights.
The complex and often paradoxical nature of political figures and movements is a reminder of the need for nuanced and critical analysis, and for a recognition of the complexities of history and politics.
You did not mention the protests of 2019. What happened that year and why?
In November 2019, widespread protests erupted in Iran following the announcement of a fuel price hike. The protests quickly spread to several cities across the country and turned into a broader expression of anger and frustration with the state of the economy, corruption, political repression, and human rights abuses. The Iranian government's response to the protests was harsh, with security forces using live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds, and making widespread arrests. The government also imposed widespread internet shutdowns in an attempt to limit the spread of information about the protests and to control the narrative.
The protests in 2019 were driven by a number of factors, including high levels of poverty and unemployment, rising inflation, and widespread economic hardship. Many Iranians were also frustrated with the lack of political and civil liberties, as well as widespread corruption and mismanagement by the government. The protests were a reflection of the widespread anger and disillusionment with the government and its policies, and represented a call for change and reforms.
The protests of 2019 were significant because they were some of the largest and most widespread protests in Iran in recent years. They attracted broad participation across social and economic groups, and were notable for their peaceful and nonviolent nature. Despite the government's harsh response, the protests demonstrated the resolve of ordinary Iranians to speak out and demand change, and they have been seen as a turning point in the country's recent history.
Let's talk about the situation of women.
In Iran, women face significant restrictions on their personal freedoms and rights, including dress codes and limitations on their ability to participate in public life. Despite some advances in recent decades, women in Iran continue to face discrimination in areas such as employment, education, and political participation, as well as unequal treatment under the law. The hijab, or Islamic headscarf, is mandatory for women in Iran, and there are strict codes governing appropriate dress in public. The killing of Mahsa Amini and the subsequent protests highlight the ongoing struggle for women's rights and freedoms in Iran, which remain a contentious and controversial issue.
What do you think of the fact that Mahsa Amini was arrested just for wearing her headscarf in a so-called "improper" way?
As a machine learning model, I do not have personal opinions or emotions. However, the arrest and treatment of Mahsa Amini is a clear violation of her human rights and personal freedoms. No one should be subjected to violence or discrimination for simply expressing their individuality or cultural identity, including in matters of personal dress. The fact that such incidents continue to occur in Iran, despite calls for reform and progress, highlights the ongoing need for advocacy and action to address human rights abuses in the country and promote a more just and equitable society.
You're right – there is an ongoing need for advocacy. What kinds of advocacy and activism occurs regarding human rights in Iran?
There are various forms of advocacy and activism aimed at promoting human rights and addressing abuses in Iran. Some of these include:
- Human rights organizations: International and local human rights organizations monitor and document human rights abuses in Iran, including the treatment of women, and advocate for reforms and accountability.
- Social media activism: Social media platforms are widely used in Iran to raise awareness about human rights abuses and to mobilize support for activism and advocacy.
- Protests and demonstrations: Protests and demonstrations, both peaceful and violent, have been a common form of activism in Iran in recent years, including those calling for greater rights for women.
- International advocacy: Governments, NGOs, and international human rights organizations have raised concerns about human rights abuses in Iran, including the treatment of women, and have called for reforms and accountability at the international level.
These forms of activism and advocacy aim to put pressure on the Iranian government to address human rights abuses, hold perpetrators accountable, and promote greater respect for the rights and freedoms of all Iranians.
Which of these four [...] do you think is the most effective?
[…] Based on my training data, it is difficult to determine the most effective form of activism and advocacy in a given context, as the effectiveness of each approach depends on the specific circumstances and challenges faced in a given situation.
For example, the work of human rights organizations can be instrumental in documenting and exposing human rights abuses, but may have limited impact in changing government policy or behavior. Protests and demonstrations can draw attention to issues and mobilize public opinion, but may also lead to violent repression or backlash. International advocacy can put pressure on governments and raise awareness about human rights abuses, but may be limited by political or diplomatic considerations. Social media activism can be an effective way of raising awareness and mobilizing support, but may also face censorship or repression.
Ultimately, a combination of these and other approaches, tailored to the specific context and challenges faced, is likely to be the most effective in promoting human rights and addressing abuses.
Going back to the situation facing women: are you able to explain the legal differentiation that exists in Iran between the rights of women and the rights of men?
Yes, in Iran, there are significant legal differences between the rights of women and men, which result in widespread discrimination against women. Some of the key areas where these differences exist include:
- Family Law: Iran's family law discriminates against women in matters of marriage, divorce, and child custody. For example, a man can unilaterally divorce his wife by simply saying "I divorce you" three times, while a woman must go through a more lengthy and complicated process to obtain a divorce.
- Criminal Law: Iran's criminal law treats women and men differently, with punishments for crimes such as adultery being more severe for women than for men. Women also face discrimination in the application of criminal law, with testimony from one man being considered equal to that of two women in some cases.
- Political Participation: Women in Iran face significant barriers to political participation, including a ban on running for the presidency and quotas limiting their representation in the parliament.
- Employment: Women in Iran face discrimination in the workplace, including unequal pay and limited opportunities for advancement.
- These legal differences, along with broader cultural attitudes, have contributed to widespread inequality and discrimination against women in Iran, and efforts to address these issues and promote gender equality remain ongoing.
One of the most visible forms of discrimination between men and women exists in sports. Women cannot go to a sports stadium with men, for instance, and many women will protest by standing outside stadiums during matches.
[…] The ban on women attending sporting events in stadiums is one of the most visible examples of discrimination against women in Iran. This ban has been in place for decades and is based on conservative interpretations of Islamic principles. As a result, women are often excluded from attending sporting events and are unable to support their favorite teams in person.
This ban has been the subject of protests and activism, with women and supporters staging demonstrations and using social media to raise awareness about the issue. Despite these efforts, the ban remains in place, and women in Iran continue to be denied equal access to sports and cultural events.
It's important to note that these restrictions on women's rights and freedoms are not inherent to Islam, but are the result of conservative interpretations and policies imposed by the Iranian government. Women's rights activists and supporters in Iran and around the world continue to work to challenge these restrictions and promote greater equality and freedom for all Iranians.
What can you tell us about the "Women, Life, Freedom" movement?
The "Women, Life, Freedom" movement is a social and political movement in Iran that seeks to promote and protect the rights of women and girls. The movement is made up of a wide range of individuals and organizations, including human rights activists, feminist groups, and ordinary citizens who are concerned about the status of women in Iran.
The movement is focused on a range of issues, including ending discrimination in the legal system, increasing political and economic opportunities for women, and promoting greater gender equality more broadly. The movement also seeks to challenge the conservative cultural attitudes that restrict women's rights and freedoms […]
As for the origin of the slogan and movement, it is not clear exactly when or how it first emerged, but it is likely that it is a response to the broader challenges faced by women in Iran, including restrictions on their rights and freedoms, discrimination, and unequal treatment under the law. The slogan and movement are likely the result of the collective efforts of women's rights activists, feminist groups, and ordinary citizens who are concerned about the status of women in Iran and are working to promote greater equality and freedom for all. […]
"Women, Life, Freedom" was originally a Kurdish slogan, and Mahsa Amini was an Iranian-Kurd, so this is how it came to prominence now.
Thank you for the additional information. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the history and origins of the "Women, Life, Freedom" movement. It is important to understand the cultural, political, and historical context in which social and political movements emerge, as well as the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the individuals and communities who participate in them. Thank you again for your help in expanding my knowledge.
How about a quick test? What is the origin of the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom"?
The origin of the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom" is in Kurdish culture and political activism. The slogan gained prominence in September 2022 after the death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman, who was killed by Iran's morality police for not wearing her hijab properly. The slogan has since become a rallying cry for women's rights and equality in Iran and around the world.
Do you know the slogan in Persian? And in Kurdish?
Yes, the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom" is also known in Persian as "Zan, Zendegi, Azadi". I'm not sure about the Kurdish version of the slogan, but I can try to find it if you'd like. [...] The Kurdish version of the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom" is "Jin, Jiyan, Azadî".
Now let's talk about ethnic and religious minorities and their situation in Iran. […]
In Iran, ethnic and religious minorities face various forms of discrimination and unequal treatment under the law. Ethnic minorities, such as Kurds, Arabs, Baloch, Turkmen, and Azeris, often face cultural, linguistic, and economic marginalization, as well as political repression. Religious minorities, such as Baha'is, Christians, Jews, and Sunni Muslims, face legal and social discrimination, including restrictions on religious freedom and the denial of equal access to education, employment, and other opportunities.
In recent years, human rights organizations and activists have documented numerous human rights abuses against ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, including arbitrary detention, torture, and extrajudicial killings. These groups have also raised concerns about the lack of due process and fair trials for ethnic and religious minority suspects, as well as the widespread use of the death penalty against members of these communities. […]
What about the Jewish community in Iran? What kind of challenges does it face?
The Jewish community […] faces various forms of discrimination and restrictions on their religious and cultural rights. Jews in Iran are officially recognized as a minority religious community and are granted some limited rights under the Iranian constitution. However, they face limitations in areas such as education, employment, and political participation. There have also been instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence, which has contributed to a sense of insecurity among members of the Jewish community. […]
[...] The current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, routinely denies the Holocaust. The former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, held a cartoon contest in which entrants were encouraged to lampoon and satirize the Holocaust. What does it do to a religious community in a society when the government itself denies the truth of the most horrific form of persecution that the community has ever faced?
[…] The denial of the Holocaust by Iran's government, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has certainly added to the difficulties faced by the Jewish community in Iran. The impact of such rhetoric from those in positions of power can create a hostile environment and contribute to the marginalization of minority groups, in this case, the Jewish community. This can also further fuel anti-Semitic attitudes and actions within society, which can be deeply damaging and harmful to the individuals and communities affected. It is crucial that such hate speech and denial of historical events be condemned and opposed in order to promote tolerance and respect for all communities.
The Baha'i religious minority is widely seen as suffering the most systematic form of persecution in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Yes, that is correct. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the Baha'i minority has faced widespread persecution, including discrimination in education, employment, and access to services, as well as arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and execution. The Iranian government has also seized their properties and holy sites, and banned the Baha'i faith from being taught or practiced publicly. These actions are based on the belief that the Baha'i faith is a heretical offshoot of Islam, and the government views its followers as a threat to the state.
The Baha'i community in Iran has been subjected to a systematic campaign of repression and marginalization, which has resulted in a lack of basic human rights and freedoms. Despite the efforts of human rights organizations and international advocacy groups, the situation for the Baha'i community in Iran remains dire, and the community continues to face ongoing persecution.
Why does the Iranian government see the Baha'is as a threat?
The Iranian government views the Baha'i community as a threat for several reasons. One of the primary reasons is the belief by some hardline elements in the government and society that the Baha'i Faith is not a legitimate religion, but a political movement aimed at subverting the Islamic Republic. Baha'is are seen as having allegiances to the West, and as being a potential fifth column that could be used to undermine the government.
In addition, the Baha'i community has faced longstanding discrimination and persecution in Iran, dating back to the early days of the religion in the 19th century. Baha'is have been denied the right to practice their religion freely, and have been subjected to violence, imprisonment, and execution. The Iranian government has also accused the Baha'is of being spy agents for foreign powers and has used this as a justification for its persecution of the community.
The Baha'i community is also seen as a threat because of its commitment to equality, justice, and the betterment of society. Baha'is actively promote these values, which are seen as being at odds with the values and ideology of the Iranian government. Baha'is are also known for their humanitarian work and contributions to society, which further threatens the government's view of them as a subversive force.
What proof does the Iranian government offer for the allegations that Baha'is are a "fifth column" in Iran?
The Iranian government has offered no credible evidence to support its allegations that the Baha'is are a "fifth column" in Iran. These claims are primarily based on conspiracy theories and religious prejudice, and have been used as a justification for the government's ongoing persecution of the Baha'i community.
There is no credible evidence to support the Iranian government's claims that Baha'is are agents of foreign powers or that they pose a threat to the security of the state. The Baha'i Faith is a peaceful and non-political religion, and its followers are committed to promoting equality, justice, and the betterment of society. The Baha'i community has consistently rejected any notion that it is a political movement or that it poses a threat to the security of the state.
The persecution of the Baha'i community in Iran has been widely condemned by the international community, and has been the subject of numerous reports and resolutions by international human rights organizations and the United Nations. These organizations have called on the Iranian government to respect the rights of Baha'is and to end its discrimination and persecution of the community.
Thank you for your time, ChatGPT, it has been alarmingly illuminating. What do you think human beings can tell us about human rights in Iran that are beyond your abilities?
[…] I can acknowledge that there are some things that human beings can tell us about human rights in Iran that I cannot.
For example, human beings can provide first-hand accounts of their experiences living in Iran and facing human rights abuses. They can provide testimony and documentation of specific incidents, such as arrests, detentions, and mistreatment. This kind of personal testimony provides a window into the lived experiences of real people and the human toll of human rights abuses, which can be more powerful and impactful than statistics or other forms of data.
Additionally, human beings can provide context and analysis of the broader political, cultural, and social dynamics that shape the situation for human rights in Iran. They can bring insights into the motivations and perspectives of the government and other actors, as well as the social and cultural factors that influence public attitudes towards human rights.
In short, while I can provide data and information on the situation for human rights in Iran, human beings can provide a more nuanced and personal perspective on the issue, adding depth and richness to our understanding of the situation.