Geneva, Switzerland | AFP | The BBC said Monday that London-based members of its Persian service had faced death threats over their reporting, as it pressed the United Nations to act against Iran in defence of press freedom.
Britain’s public broadcaster is lobbying the Human Rights Council this week to help raise awareness about what it describes as a sustained harassment campaign by the Iranian regime against its Persian-language reporters.
BBC Persian TV’s special correspondent Kasra Naji told journalists in Geneva that “more than 20 of us, BBC Persia staff and our families, received death threats.”
Several people required “police protection” in Britain he added.
Those comments came after Britain’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, condemned Iran’s treatment of the BBC during a Council meeting on the country’s human rights record.
“We call on Iran to drop the criminal charges against the BBC Persian staff and cease harassment of all journalists and their families with immediate effect,” Braithwaite said, referring to a probe launched by Tehran alleging that BBC Persia’s work was “a crime against Iran’s national security.”
BBC officials plan to address the Council directly later this week.
While condemning harassment of reporters in Iran, the BBC and press rights groups have raised particular alarm over the attempt to intimidate people outside the country.
“What is different about this is the way that they have reached beyond their borders,” said Jeremy Dear, the deputy general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists.
He told reporters this strategy had “massive potential implications” for foreign reporting.
Naji reported that the sister of one London-based BBC Persia journalist was arrested in Iran in 2013 and held in solitary confinement for 17 days.
Iranian authorities indicated she would be released if the reporter agreed to quit the BBC or spy on her colleagues, according to Naji.
The BBC said it has never received a response from Tehran about its concerns, despite repeated attempts to open dialogue.
The secretary of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, Mohammad-Javad Larijani, did not address the BBC’s concerns in his remarks to the rights council on Monday.