BBC Persian staff threatened by Iranian authorities on National Day of Journalists in Iran

In a lengthy statement issued by Mizan news agency yesterday, on the National Day of Journalists in Iran, a series of allegations were made against named BBC Persian journalists. The language used marked a significant escalation in the type of language used against BBC Persian staff. The most concerning passage said:

Without doubt, the mafia gang associated with the joint psychological operations HQ of overthrowing the system of the Islamic Republic, which has directly targeted the Iranian people and their security, are not free to carry out any counter-security measures against the Iranian people. The members and employees of this gang, a number of whom have gathered in the BBC Persian propaganda-security apparatus, and even their internal colleagues who are following the same line, must be held answerable for their actions against the Iranian people. They will surely be exposed one day before the Iranian nation, and God’s hand of justice will manifest itself through the arms of the Iranian people, and they will be punished for their actions.

These comments were further amplified later by a statement from a spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards Corps. For those who follow Iranian politics, the use of this language is ominous and has had particular use in the past in reference to extra-judicial killings.

BBC Persian journalists have been persecuted by the Iranian government for their work for almost a decade. Last year, that persecution escalated with a collective criminal investigation and an asset freezing order on their assets in Iran. In October 2017, the BBC made an unprecedented appeal to UNabout the protection of BBC Persian journalists. In March 2018, BBC journalists addressed the UN Human Rights Council for the first time in BBC history, calling upon member states to take action to protect BBC journalists. Iran, in its response to the UN Special Rapporteur, confirmed that Iran considers working as a journalist for the BBC is a crime.

Responding to comments made on the Mizan news agency, Francesca Unsworth, BBC Director of News, said:

These latest comments from the Iranian news agency connected to the judiciary in Iran represent a significant escalation of the threats made against named BBC Persian staff. In deliberately inflammatory language, this statement effectively incites violence against our journalists.

We call once again for all Iranian harassment against BBC Persian staff and their families in Iran to end immediately. This is an issue of press freedom, and of the rights of all journalists around the world to operate without fear violence or persecution.”  

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street International, who act for BBC World Service in the UN complaint, said in a joint statement:

The Iranian authorities have for many years harassed BBC Persian journalists in London and their families in Iran simply because of their work. This development takes things to another level: this is a thinly veiled threat to our clients’ lives and physical safety. These are effectively State-sanctioned threats to journalists’ safety, using inflammatory and irresponsible language. The international community must condemn this in the strongest terms.