BBC urges UN experts to condemn Iran’s ‘harassment’ of its journalists

Lawyers accuse Tehran of abusing ‘national security and counter-terrorism laws’ against news organization to intimidate and silence independent reporting on regime

A logo of the BBC is seen at the BBC Headquarters in London, Britain, on July 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A logo of the BBC is seen at the BBC Headquarters in London, Britain, on July 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

LONDON, United Kingdom — The BBC on Tuesday urged United Nations experts to condemn the “ongoing targeting and harassment” of some of its Persian language journalists after Tehran convicted some for “propaganda” against the state.

According to the broadcaster, documents published in February by a hacking group appear to reveal that a number of current and former BBC News Persian journalists were convicted in absentia by an Iranian court in February 2022 for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”

A complaint was submitted by lawyers on behalf of the BBC to five special rapporteurs, it said in a statement.

The rapporteurs are independent experts in areas such as freedom of expression and human rights and summary or arbitrary executions, who do not speak for the UN, but report their findings to it.

“Recent developments have amplified the severe situation facing our BBC News Persian staff on a daily basis. They are being penalized for their journalism and professionalism,” said BBC World Service director Liliane Landor.

“We are urging UN experts to robustly condemn the Iranian authorities’ harassment and to hold the regime to account,” she added.

Iranians protest 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini’s death after she was detained by the morality police, in Tehran, September 20, 2022. (AP, File)

Lawyers Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Jennifer Robinson, who are acting for the BBC, accused Iran of abusing “national security and counter-terrorism laws against the BBC.”

They said “convictions in absentia for BBC News Persian journalists for ‘propaganda’ against the state for their independent reporting on Iran are designed to intimidate and silence the BBC’s journalism about Iran.”

“We call on the UN to denounce these unlawful actions in the strongest possible terms,” the pair added.

The BBC said the “targeting and intimidation” of staff had “escalated dramatically” since September 2022 following mass protests in Iran.

The appeal follows an earlier joint statement by four UN experts in 2020 in which they voiced their “alarm” at the treatment of BBC journalists and their families.

Last month, Pouria Zeraati, a United Kingdom-based presenter for Persian-language Iran International, sustained injuries to his leg after being stabbed by two assailants outside his London home.

Counter-terrorism detectives are probing the assault and say his attackers went straight to Heathrow Airport and left the country within hours.

A 2024 survey of BBC News Persian staff found half of the respondents said they had received online threats or been harassed online for working for the BBC.

BBC News was not the only target of suppression of journalists by the Iranian regime. In January, Iranian authorities released two journalists who spent more than a year behind bars for covering the death of Mahsa Amini, an incident that sparked monthslong nationwide and worldwide protests.

This picture taken and released by the Sharq News Online on January 14, 2024, shows Iranian journalists Niloufar Hamedi (R) and Elaheh Mohammadi (L) flashing the sign of victory after they were released from Evin prison on bail in Tehran. (Sahand Taki/Sharq News Online/AFP)

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, had been arrested for an alleged breach of strict dress rules for women. She died in the custody of the morality police.

The two reporters – Niloufar Hamedi, 31, and Elaheh Mohammadi, 36 – were initially given six and five-year prison sentences respectively, for collaborating with the United States, conspiring against state security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.

In actuality, Hamedi was arrested less than a week after visiting the hospital where Amini was being treated and posting a photo. At the same time, Mohammadi was detained for going to Amini’s hometown of Saqez to cover her funeral.

In August, Iranian media reported that authorities had questioned or arrested more than 90 journalists since the protests triggered by Amini’s death in different cities erupted across the country.

Hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel, were killed in the protests and thousands of demonstrators were arrested, accused by the authorities of taking part in “riots” fomented by the West.

Most Popular
read more: