Iran arrests six working for BBC Farsi: report
September 19th, 2011 - 10:57 UTC
by Andy Sennitt.

Iran has arrested five men and a woman for gathering information for the BBC’s Farsi language service, a state television website reported, citing an informed source. ”These identified individuals were providing the BBC Farsi with information, films, and secret reports to paint a black picture of Iran and Iranians,” the website reported.

According to the unnamed source - who identified the detainees by their initials M.M.T., M.Z., N.S., H.A., M.Sh. and Miss K.Sh. - the arrests were carried out on Saturday night. ”The members of this covert cell of BBC Farsi were paid tens of thousands of dollars for each of their programmes and would then split the money among themselves,” he was quoted as saying.

Asked about the arrests, Iran’s Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini confirmed that the country’s “intelligence and security apparatus” had detained several people, ISNA news agency reported. Hosseini added that he did not have any details about “how or in what manner they had collaborated” with the BBC, but warned Iranians against aiding “a media that acts against the Islamic republic and its national interests.” The detainees were documentary filmmakers, according to ISNA.

Accused by the regime of fuelling the unrest that broke out following the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the British broadcaster does not have an office for its Farsi service in Iran.

The Islamic republic prohibits any cooperation with radio and television networks that broadcast in Farsi and are not controlled by the regime, including the BBC and the Voice of America which are very popular in Iran. However, there are currently more than 30 channels accessible via satellite that broadcast in Farsi from abroad.

While there are no official figures available of the number of Iranians who watch foreign satellite channels, press reports say over 30 percent of the country’s population have satellite dishes even though these are illegal. Satellite channels are routinely scrambled [jammed] by the authorities, but even regular operations by the police aimed at seizing satellite dishes has failed to make the devices vanish from Iranian rooftops.

All journalists employed by the foreign media must obtain accreditation from the ministry of culture in order to work in Iran.