BBC calls on governments to act over Iranian intimidation

Rebecca Hawkes ©RapidTVNews | 05-10-2011

The BBC's director of global news has requested that international governments urge the Iranian regime to desist in attempts to undermine free media, after relatives of ten of the broadcaster's staff were arrested or intimidated.

Attempts by Iran to bully the BBC have reached new levels recently, according to Peter Horrocks, writing on the BBC Editors blog on Wednesday (5 October).

"Iranian police and officials have been arresting, questioning and intimidating the relatives of BBC staff. We believe that the relatives and friends of around 10 BBC staff have been treated this way," said Horrocks.

"Passports have been confiscated, homes searched and threats made. The relatives have been told to tell the BBC staff to stop appearing on air, to return to Iran, or to secretly provide information on the BBC to the Iranian authorities."

He added: "These actions and threats against the BBC have been accompanied by a dramatic increase in anti-BBC rhetoric. Iranian officials have claimed that BBC staff are employees of MI6, that named staff have been involved in crimes, including sexual crimes, and that BBC Persian is inciting designated terror groups to attack Iran."

"Our Iranian journalists have made their own decisions to work for the BBC, which they knew might cause hostility from their own government. But their families are innocent bystanders and it is outrageous that they should also be victimised," said Horrocks.

Six independent documentary makers were also arrested last month in Iran, accused of working for the BBC – an allegation which has been refuted by the British broadcaster.

BBC Persian TV, which has broadcast in the Farsi language since 2009, does not have a base in Iran. Receiving its broadcasts – or that of any other satellite-provided TV service – is illegal in Iran, though satellite TV reception is widespread in practice.

Iran has been accused by Eutelsat as well as the BBC of repeatedly jamming satellite signals to prevent transmission of BBC Persian. The BBC claims interference intensified on the evening of 17 September, just as the channel began broadcasting a documentary about Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

"The BBC calls on the Iranian government to repudiate the actions of its officials. And we request the British and other governments take all necessary means to deter the Iranian government from all these attempts to undermine free media," said Horrocks.