BBC World Service files UN complaint against Iran over reprisals against BBC Persian staff

The BBC World Service, represented by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, have filed a complaint with the UN Secretary-General and the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights against Iran. The complaint relates to reprisals against BBC Persian staff as a result of their engagement with the United Nations and its Special Mechanisms.

In late 2017 the BBC filed its first ever complaint with the UN over the protection of its journalists. The complaint related to more than a decade of persecution and harassment suffered by BBC Persian staff and their families in Iran as a result of their work as journalists with the BBC. The campaign of persecution and harassment escalated in 2017 when Iran announced a collective criminal national security investigation into 152 current and former BBC Persian staff, as well as an asset freeze on all assets in Iran.

Since then, the BBC World Service has continued to engage with UN Special Mechanisms and BBC Persian journalists have addressed the UN Human Rights Council, working together on a joint advocacy campaign with the National Union of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists and Ms Gallagher QC and Ms Robinson of Doughty Street International.

In response, family members in Iran have been warned by government officials that there would be repercussions if their BBC Persian staff relatives participated in or contributed to advocacy efforts at the UN. Journalists who have addressed the Human Rights Council have faced accusations of being “anti-Iranian” and have been attacked in state media reports and on social media.

Ms Gallagher QC and Ms Robinson said:

“The proper functioning of the UN human rights system requires that those making complaints do not face reprisals or threats for providing information to the UN. Reprisals against BBC Persian journalists and their families for engaging with the UN is not just an attack on freedom of expression, but an attack on the integrity of the UN system. Such reprisals must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”

This complaint is addressed to the Secretary-General, António Guterres; the Assistant Secretary-General, Andrew Gilmour, who is leading UN efforts concerning the issue of reprisals and the two Special Rapporteurs to whom the BBC Persian’s complaints over the past fifteen months have been directed. It is filed against the backdrop of the European Union sanctioning Iran in January 2019, following a number of allegations from Denmark, France and the Netherlands that Iran was behind a number of attacks in Europe, including two assassinations.