On March 12, the BBC said its journalists will appeal directly to the United Nations over alleged “persecution and harassment” by Iran of its Persian Service staff. The BBC has said that staff in London and/or their families in Iran have been targets of threats, arrests and travel bans. More than 20 staff or family members have received death threats. The appeal will be made at a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.
Iran began targeting the BBC Persian Service following the disputed 2009 presidential election, when government officials accused foreign powers of interference. The service, which broadcasts on TV, on radio and online, is banned in Iran, but reportedly manages to reach some 18 million people weekly.
The video below includes testimonies from BBC journalists.
The BBC has tied the harassment to the wider issue of human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic, which are well-documented by international watchdogs. “Iran directly accuses the BBC of the dissemination of false information and attempting to overthrow the government. This is transparently false. It’s an attempt to justify a criminal investigation into our stuff and their families. It is a grave threat to freedom of speech and clearly breaches Iran’s international human rights obligations,” said the BBC World Service’s Tarik Kafala, who heads the Arabic language division. "This is not just about the BBC as we are not the only media organisation to have been harassed or forced to compromise when dealing with Iran,” BBC director general Tony Hall said in a statement. "This is not just about the BBC as we are not the only media organisation to have been harassed or forced to compromise when dealing with Iran."
On March 12, Iran's permanent U.N. mission in Geneva told the Human Rights Council that the allegations of harassment and threats were false. "BBC Persian is not an independent media network," the mission said. "Its financial and political affiliation with the ministry of foreign affairs and the British security agencies has been very serious."
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson raised the BBC’s concerns with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, during his December 2017 visit to Tehran. But Iran is suspicious of the United Kingdom’s intentions due to its involvement in the 1953 coup against the elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. The coup was orchestrated by the CIA and British intelligence.
In August 2017, an Iranian court at Evin prison issued an order freezing the non-liquid assets of 152 staff, former staff and contributors. The judiciary did not give an explanation for the order.
In October 2017, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, acknowledged receiving a complaint from the BBC. He called on Iran to stop the harassment.
The U.S. State Department released a statement calling on Iran to respect its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
STATEMENT BY HEATHER NAUERT, SPOKESPERSON
March 15, 2018
Harassment of the Press in Iran
This week, the UN Human Rights Council discussed the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.
The United States notes with concern the grave conditions facing the press in Iran as detailed in the UN Special Rapporteur’s report. The report says in part, “The Special Rapporteur has continued to receive reports of the arbitrary arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists, media workers, and their families, including during interviews conducted during missions.”
We also note in the Special Rapporteur’s report, the disturbing examples of harassment, arbitrary detention, travel bans, and surveillance by intelligence service operatives of some individuals and their families working for the Persian Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The report references an injunction by a Tehran court, banning 152 members of staff, former employees, and contributors from carrying out financial transactions in the country, citing “conspiracy against national security.”
These actions are unacceptable. The United States calls on the Iranian regime to respect its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that guarantee the freedom of expression, including for members of the press.