The BBC’s legal representatives have urged the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to take action on Iran’s harassment of staff at the BBC Persian service.
The BBC complained that intelligence agents have threatened to kidnap its London staff and take them to Iran. This is not the first time that the British broadcaster has taken the rare step of appealing to the UN for their safety.
Iranian authorities have previously denied the allegations, and accused BBC Persia of spreading false information to encourage its government’s overthrow.
An estimated 18 million Iranians – almost a quarter of Iran’s population – regularly use the BBC’s Persian service online, on radio or via satellite television.
But the Farsi language service is banned in Iran, and authorities there have previously detained people for alleged links to the BBC outlet.
On Thursday, the BBC hosted a virtual side event, coinciding with a UNHRC meeting, to raise concern about what it says is an escalating campaign of harassment by Iran towards BBC Persian journalists and other Farsi-language media.
Among those speaking at the event was BBC Persian reporter Kasra Naji, who spoke about the threats and cyberbullying, which he, his colleagues and their families had endured.
In an internal survey of 102 BBC Persian staff, carried out in March 2020, 71 said they had experienced harassment. A third have also had one or both parents harassed or called in for questioning by Iranian authorities, and over half say they feel under pressure to leave their jobs.
Mr. Naji said that, over the 2020 Christmas period, six staff had family members called in for questioning by Iranian intelligence agents. All were allegedly told to pass on death threats to their London-based relatives.
During every interrogation, officials made reference to Ruhollah Zam – a Paris-based opposition journalist who was enticed to travel to Baghdad in 2019, where he was kidnapped and taken to Iran. Mr. Zam was executed last year for allegedly fomenting unrest with his writing.
“Perhaps the most shocking thing is the intelligence officers who made these threats against our lives were so comfortable that they handed over their phone numbers for us to contact them – acting with total impunity on behalf of the state,” said Mr. Naji.
“We ask you to help shine a light on what’s happening to us. It’s the only way to safeguard us,” he added. “It’s a matter of life and death for us – and our families – to speak out.”
The BBC says Iran began targeting its Persian service after the country’s 2009 presidential elections, when millions of Iranian took to the streets claiming their votes had been stolen.
Allegations of fraud led to months of unrest, which Iranian authorities blamed on Western governments and international media – including the BBC.
Since then, the BBC says staffs have been subjected to a campaign of harassment and death threats, which has escalated in recent years, warranting UK police protection in a number of cases.
The BBC made its first complaint to the UN in 2017, and in March 2019 a group of UN experts condemned Iran’s treatment of the broadcaster, saying that its actions violated international law and “ultimately [constituted]serious threats to global security”. (Source: BBC)