April 16, 2021
Iran has stepped up its campaign of death threats and harassment of BBC employees and their families following critical reports of the country’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The broadcaster said Iran-based relatives of staff had been brought in for questioning in increasing numbers and given a “clear message” that their relatives should stop working for the BBC.
The approach has become “more frightening and aggressive” towards elderly parents and other family members, the broadcaster said in a memo to MPs and media rights groups. A number of journalists have received death threats.
Officials say that Iranian authorities have targeted and harassed BBC journalists, their families and friends for more than a decade. Journalists at the London-based network Iran International have also been harassed.
The first major wave of attacks against BBC Persian journalists started at the time of the 2009 Iranian presidential election when the regime tried to jam the channel’s satellite broadcasts.
In 2017, Iranian authorities launched a criminal investigation into 152 current and former BBC Persian journalists, accusing them of conspiracy against national security, and froze their assets, a freeze that remains in place.
Harassment of staff intensified when journalists covered the bloody purge of mass anti-government protests in November 2019.
At least 44 BBC Persian staff members told a survey that family members had lost their jobs or businesses as a result of intimidation carried out by the Iran.
The latest surge comes a year after UN human rights experts demanded that Iran stop harassing and intimidating journalists. The new cases appear to be partially linked to BBC reports about Iran’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, rather than the broadcaster’s coverage of talks in Vienna that could see the United States return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
The surge in activity was highlighted by BBC reporter John Simpson.
One member of staff said Iranian officials had targeted his parents and his brother, and false stories about him were published.
“First the officials summoned my dad and asked him to stop me from working for the BBC,” the journalist said. “Later, police stormed our house, confiscated my mother and brother’s passports.
“My other brother was refused to run for the town council and later was temporarily banned from teaching at the university.”
A UK-based member of staff said emails were sent threatening a son, then aged about 10. “They said they knew where his school was and they would kill him. Police confirmed that the emails were sent from Iran.”
The BBC Persian chapel of the National Union of Journalists said that staff were being targeted for doing their jobs well.
“As professional journalists, we reflect the world fairly and accurately, so our audience can trust us. Putting pressure on us and harassing our loved ones doesn’t change the truth.”
Bob Blackman, an MP for the ruling Conservative Party, said: “BBC Persian staff have faced a sustained campaign of harassment from the Iranian regime which highlights the regime’s control is slipping.”