BBC Makes Unprecedented Human Rights Appeal to UN with assistance of Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson

For the first time in its history, the BBC is making an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to protect the human rights of BBC journalists and their families. This unprecedented move comes in response to years of persecution and harassment by the Iranian authorities, which escalated in 2017. BBC journalists will address the Human Rights Council 37th session (HRC37) to call upon member states to take action to protect BBC staff and to ensure their ability to report freely.
Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson were consulted by the BBC last year after 152 current and former BBC Persian were accused by the Iranian authorities of crimes against national security for their reporting work with BBC and subjected to an asset freezing order which prevents them from buying and selling property. This followed almost a decade of persecution and harassment, commencing in 2009, of BBC Persian staff and their families. Represented by Doughty Street, BBC World Service filed an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye and Asma Jahangir on behalf of BBC Persian staff: the first time in the BBC’s history that it has had to resort to the UN to protect its journalists and staff.
BBC Director General, Tony Hall, said: “The BBC is taking the unprecedented step of appealing to the United Nations because our own attempts to persuade the Iranian authorities to end their harassment have been completely ignored. In fact, during the past nine years, the collective punishment of BBC Persian Service journalists and their families has worsened. This is not just about the BBC – we are not the only media organisation to have been harassed or forced to compromise when dealing with Iran. In truth, this story is much wider: it is a story about fundamental human rights. We are now asking the community of nations at the UN to support the BBC and uphold the right to freedom of expression.”
Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC said: “Journalism is not a crime, but for almost a decade BBC Persian journalists have been systemically harassed and threatened simply for doing their jobs, and their families targeted. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right which underpins other freedoms. Without it, societies wither. The international community must stand up to the Iranian authorities and speak out to support BBC Persian and protect freedom of expression.”
In addition to the urgent appeal, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson have advised BBC World Service on the international legal and advocacy campaign to protect BBC Persian staff. Working with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Doughty Street Chambers, the BBC has organised a series of events during HRC37 in Geneva this week about BBC Persian. BBC journalists will speak during the session as IFJ representatives and there will be a side event on Thursday 15 June where Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC will speak about Doughty Street’s legal efforts.

The event will raise awareness about the persecution of BBC Persian Service journalists in London and their families in Iran. In additional to the criminal investigation and asset freeze injunction, they have faced arbitrary arrest and detention of family members in Iran, the confiscation of passports and travel bans preventing people leaving Iran, ongoing surveillance of journalists and their families, and the spread of fake and defamatory news targeting individuals especially women journalists.


As a result of the work of Doughty Street counsel, the treatment of BBC Persian staff is now firmly on the international human rights agenda of the UN. After the urgent appeal was filed by BBC World Service, UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye and the late Asma Jahangir issued a joint statement expressing concern that the “Iranian authorities appear to regard any affiliation with the BBC as a crime” and that the “measures are clearly aimed at targeting the BBC and at preventing journalists from continuing their legitimate work with BBC Persian.”
During HRC37, the UN Secretary-General’s report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (A/HRC/37/24) specifically mentioned the persecution of BBC Persian staff and their families and the fact that “special procedure mandate holders issued a statement calling upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to cease all legal action against the BBC staff and their families, and to end the use of repressive legislation against independent journalism, whether affiliated to the BBC or not.”
Today in Geneva, the late UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Asma Jahangir’s report will be tabled and discussed at the Human Rights Council. The late Ms Jahangir, a celebrated Pakistani human rights lawyer, reported being “disturbed after hearing the accounts of the staff members” and how the UN Special Rapporteurs have “issued a statement calling upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to cease all legal action against the staff and their families, and to cease the use of repressive legislation against independent journalism.”

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