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Iranian authorities “harassed, threatened and intimidated journalists” report finds

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Iranian authorities “harassed, threatened and intimidated journalists” report finds

UN Fact-Finding Mission on Iran reports on the threats faced by BBC News Persian journalists and their family members…

The report published yesterday (March 8) by the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran raises concern that the Iranian authorities “harassed, threatened and intimidated journalists and other media employees working outside the country”, including those working at BBC News Persian, and for including BBC News Persian on a list of sanctioned organisations.

Counsel for the BBC News Persian service, Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC and Jennifer Robinson:

“Iran has long attempted to silence journalists within its borders, but as the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Iran makes clear, Iran is now resorting to ever more extreme measures to try to silence journalists reporting on Iran, wherever in the world they may be.

“These drastic and dangerous tactics come at a time when independent reporting about Iran is needed more than ever – and particularly after the protests following the death of Mahsa Amini. The UN Fact-Finding Mission has today acknowledged and highlighted the harassment that BBC News Persian journalists face simply for doing their jobs. Journalism is not a crime, and Iran must be held to account for treating it as one.”

The Fact-Finding Mission was set up by the UN Human Rights Council on 24 November 2022, to investigate “the deteriorating situation of human rights in Iran, especially with respect to women and children” and human rights violations in Iran related to the protests that began on 16 September 2022. The BBC World Service filed a submission highlighting Iran’s harassment of BBC News Persian journalists and their families in Iran and has been engaging with the UN Fact-Finding Mission concerning its mandate.

Focusing on Iran’s treatment of journalists working for Persian-language media outside Iran, the report says:

“The mission has further established that the State authorities harassed, threatened and intimidated journalists and other media employees working outside the country, including those working at the BBC Persian service, Iran International television, Voice of America, IranWire and Deutsche Welle. The Iranian authorities summoned, threatened and in some cases arrested, detained and charged the family members of those journalists and media workers in an apparent effort to exert pressure on them and prevent them from reporting on the country.

“On 19 October 2022, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sanctioned the BBC Persian service and Iran International television, and imposed asset freezes on their staff. Journalists also received serious threats, including to their lives and personal safety, leading to the involvement of the police in some countries. Journalists, in particular women journalists, faced heightened online vilification, harassment and attacks.” 

Recently the BBC became aware, through the publication of leaked documents, that several current and former BBC News Persian journalists have reportedly been secretly convicted in absentia in Iran of the crime of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”. This has obvious, significant implications for these individuals.

BBC Director-General, Tim Davie:

“These developments add a new, even more sinister dimension to the threats and harassment our BBC Persian journalists have been exposed to for decades as punishment for doing their job. Instead of taking heed of the repeated calls from the UN and other international organisations to stop the horrendous multi-faceted harassment of Persian-language journalists, the Iranian authorities have been devising even more means of persecution using the Iranian judiciary. The Iranian authorities must stop harassing our journalists and their families.”

Since 2017, the BBC World Service has filed a number of UN complaints over the treatment of BBC News Persian staff and their families, represented by Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC and Jennifer Robinson at Doughty Street Chambers, and supported by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

In a recent survey conducted internally among the BBC News Persian staff, half of the respondents said they had received online threats or been harassed online for working for the BBC. The work of the BBC journalists continues to cause harassment of their families or friends, with over 60% of the respondents having been harassed, threatened or questioned in Iran.  Nearly 70% said that they hadn’t been able to say goodbye to one or both their parents before they passed away in Iran.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary:

“Iran’s all-out war on Iranian journalists abroad is a cowardly attempt to hide the truth by silencing its conveyors. For more than a decade, NUJ members and their families have been subjected to increasingly more harassment and threats, be it by Iranian authorities abusing legal system of the country or even by hiring criminals to directly target journalists on UK soil. This must be stopped now.  Every country and international organisation that believes in democracy or the rule of law needs to call Iran out. Failure to confront the Islamic Republic of Iran would be a green light to other authoritarian regimes to follow suit.”

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