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Families of BBC staff being harassed in Iran


By Peter Horrocks, director, BBC Global News (Source: BBC)

The BBC has become accustomed over many years to relentless criticism from the Iranian authorities. Often the verbal claims made by the Iranian government and media are so exaggerated that we ignore them and rely on the good sense of our audiences in Iran and around the world to discount their wilder statements. However recent direct actions against the BBC by Iran cannot be ignored.

BBC Persian TV

We are seeing the levels of intimidation and bullying as well as attempts to interfere with our independence reaching new levels - particularly since a documentary about the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei was aired.

In recent weeks the jamming by the Iranians of international Persian language TV stations, such as BBC Persian TV and the Voice of America's Persian News Network has intensified.

The jamming prevents Iranian audiences viewing a vital free service of information. In the past week alone, hundreds of Iranian viewers have sent emails and used social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to reach out to us.

They tell us how much they value us as a source of reliable independent news, ask us to persevere and to look for other - not prone to interference - ways of broadcasting BBC Persian TV.

Iran is a member of the United Nations body the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); as such the Iranian government is a signatory to international communications treaties that are designed to allow the free exchange of information and data, for the benefit of all.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

The BBC and other international broadcasters have called on governments and international regulatory bodies to put maximum pressure on Iran to desist in this flagrant censorship.

The second category of direct action by Iran is aimed not at our audience but the BBC's own staff. Many of our Iranian employees who live in London are fearful to return to their country because of the regime's attacks on the BBC. But although those journalists are beyond the direct reach of their government they are now subject to a new underhand tactic.

Iranian police and officials have been arresting, questioning and intimidating the relatives of BBC staff. We believe that the relatives and friends of around 10 BBC staff have been treated this way.

Passports have been confiscated, homes searched and threats made. The relatives have been told to tell the BBC staff to stop appearing on air, to return to Iran, or to secretly provide information on the BBC to the Iranian authorities.

Six independent documentary makers whose films have appeared on BBC Persian TV have also been arrested in Iran. Although these film-makers have never been employed or commissioned by the BBC, they are paying the price for an indirect connection to the BBC.

These actions and threats against the BBC have been accompanied by a dramatic increase in anti-BBC rhetoric. Iranian officials have claimed that BBC staff are employees of MI6, that named staff have been involved in crimes, including sexual crimes, and that BBC Persian is inciting designated terror groups to attack Iran.

Whilst these claims are clearly absurd, the intensity of language magnifies the fears of BBC staff for their family and friends back in Iran. Given the vulnerability of those family members we have thought hard about drawing attention to this harassment. But this public statement has the full support of all staff whose families have been intimidated.

Our Iranian journalists have made their own decisions to work for the BBC, which they knew might cause hostility from their own government. But their families are innocent bystanders and it is outrageous that they should also be victimised.

This issue is wider than the BBC and is behaviour that all people who believe in free and independent media should be concerned about.

The BBC calls on the Iranian government to repudiate the actions of its officials. And we request the British and other governments take all necessary means to deter the Iranian government from all these attempts to undermine free media.

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