The BBC has once again appealed to the United Nations over Iranian authorities’ alleged harassment of employees at its Persian-language service, the broadcaster said on Friday.
It follows similar efforts by the BBC in recent years for the world body to pressure Tehran for its alleged campaign of threats and intimidation directed at staff and their family in Iran.
Iran, which bans the BBC’s Farsi service, denies the allegations and accuses the BBC of spreading fake news aimed at toppling the regime.
With the use of virtual private networks and other methods to bypass filtering common in the country, some 18 million Iranians are estimated to regularly use the platform online, or on radio or TV.
Journalists and reporters held a virtual side event on Thursday at a three-week session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Lawyers for the BBC have urged the UNHRC to take action.
At the event, BBC Persian report Kasra Naji recounted alleged kidnapping threats, as well as cyberbullying, experienced by him, his colleagues, and their families.
He said that over Christmas 2020, six staff had been summoned for questioning by Iranian intelligence and told to pass on death threats to their London-based relatives.
Interrogators referred to dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was hanged over involvement in protests during the winter of 2017-18, among other charges. Zam, who operated a Telegram channel covering the protests, lived in exile in Paris before he was allegedly lured to Iraq, where he was kidnapped and taken to Iran. He was executed last year.
Naji added that the intelligence officials who made the death threats “were so comfortable that they handed over their phone number for us to contact them – acting with total impunity on behalf of the states”.
He called on the UN to “shine a light of what’s happening to us. It’s the only way to safeguard us.”
Lawyers for the journalist have hit out at what they describe as the UN’s failure to respond to urgent requests for it to issue condemnations, suggesting that failure to confront Iran emboldened other authoritarian regimes to harass critics.
Iran’s campaign against the BBC’s Persian-language service began following the country’s 2009 presidential election, which prompted months of mass protest in Iran over alleged voter fraud.
Iranian authorities blamed the BBC, leading to systemic persecution and death threats against staff that have in some cases warranted UK police protection.
In 2017, Iran’s judiciary ordered a criminal investigation into 152 current and former BBC Persian journalists, issuing an asset-freezing injunction.