August 9, 2022
The UN’s formal communication with Iran’s government over its alleged abuse of BBC Persian’s female staff and their families, has now been published, alongside a terse denial from Tehran.
This comes in the wake of the BBC filing an urgent appeal to the UN in February about Iran’s alleged ongoing harassment of the journalists working for the UK channel’s Farsi service.
The BBC claims that the harassment includes online violence, threats of rape and murder, attacks on their credibility, hacking and phishing of their emails and telephones, and false and defamatory stories about their personal lives.
The UN communication, originally sent to Iranian authorities in late May, was officially published on Tuesday alongside a response from Iran, according to reports.
The BBC has filed multiple complaints with the UN since 2017, the latest of which was in February 2022. The channel claims that its staff and their families have faced relentless harassment and intimidation since BBC Persian TV was launched in 2009.
In the communication, UN experts expressed “grave concern over the continuation of reported harassment and intimidation of the BBC News Persian staff and their family members, which appears to be aimed at preventing them from continuing their journalistic activities with the language service.
The UN experts also raised concerns about the reported surveillance of journalists and the harassment of their sources in Iran, the interrogation of their family members, and the pressure placed on them “to leave their jobs.”
Additionally, the UN experts warned Iran that they intend to raise public concern regarding the alleged treatment, stating that “the wider public should be alerted” about the matter.
In its written response, Iran’s government claimed the journalists were supporting “the overthrow of the Islamic Republic,” with “hostile” coverage that “tarnishes” the regime, and which “incited riots.”
Director of BBC World Service Liliane Landor slammed Iran’s response: “We are grateful to the United Nations for raising our grave concerns about the treatment of our BBC News Persian journalists. We reject Iran’s attempt to justify its behaviour — the sanctions and harassment against our colleagues and their families must stop.”
International counsel for the BBC World Service, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, said: “Iran’s aggressive, defensive response to the UN experts provides a revealing insight into how it considers independent journalism: a threat to its power, which must be silenced.”
They urged the international community to hold Iran accountable for these actions.