For the first time in its history, the BBC is making an appeal to the United Nations in Geneva to protect the human rights of BBC journalists and their families. This unprecedented move comes in response to years of persecution and harassment by the Iranian authorities, which escalated in 2017.
Tony Hall, BBC Director General, said: “The BBC is taking the unprecedented step of appealing to the United Nations because our own attempts to persuade the Iranian authorities to end their harassment have been completely ignored. In fact, during the past nine years, the collective punishment of BBC Persian Service journalists and their families has worsened. This is not just about the BBC – we are not the only media organisation to have been harassed or forced to compromise when dealing with Iran. In truth, this story is much wider: it is a story about fundamental human rights. We are now asking the community of nations at the UN to support the BBC and uphold the right to freedom of expression.”
Represented by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers, BBC World Service filed an urgent appeal to UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye and Asma Jahangir on behalf of BBC Persian staff in October 2017. This week BBC journalists will, for the first time ever, address the Human Rights Council session to call upon member states to take action to protect BBC staff and to ensure their ability to report freely.
Working with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the BBC has organised a series of events during the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this week about BBC Persian. These activities include a press conference on Monday 12 March and a side event on Thursday 15 March. BBC representatives will address the Human Rights Council as IFJ spokespeople.
Jeremy Dear, Deputy General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, said: “For many years Iranian journalists have suffered; been forced into hiding, fled into exile, been arrested, jailed and subjected to routine harassment, violence and intimidation. Iranians now increasingly turn to the international media to find out what is happening in their own country. Targeting family members in Iran in an attempt to silence journalists working in London must be stopped; the international community must act now.”
BBC Persian Service journalists in London and their families in Iran have been systematically targeted since the BBC’s satellite television service was launched in 2009. In 2017 the harassment escalated when the Iranian authorities commenced a criminal investigation, alleging BBC Persian Service journalists’ work was a crime against Iran’s national security. This was accompanied by an asset-freezing injunction citing 152 named individuals, comprising mainly of current and former BBC Persian staff, and this injunction prevented journalists and their families from buying or selling their homes and other property in Iran.
Other measures include the arbitrary arrest and detention of family members in Iran, the confiscation of passports and travel bans preventing people leaving Iran, ongoing surveillance of journalists and their families, and the spread of fake and defamatory news targeting individuals especially women journalists.
On Monday 12 March in Geneva, the late UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Asma Jahangir’s report will be tabled and discussed at the Human Rights Council. The report states:
“In the course of her missions, the Special Rapporteur also met individuals working for the Persian Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation. They described how they and their families in the Islamic Republic of Iran had been harassed by the authorities, and threatened if they continued to work for the Service. Some were arbitrarily arrested, detained, and subjected to travel bans. In August 2017, a court in Tehran issued an injunction banning 152 members of staff, former employees, and contributors from carrying out financial transactions in the country on account of “conspiracy against national security”. Until the time of writing, the injunction has not been lifted and harassment has continued. The Special Rapporteur was disturbed after hearing the accounts of the staff members, observing that many preferred to talk individually and in strict privacy. It has been also reported that some staff members have been photographed while in London to impress upon their families that their relative was being watched. The level of fear that Iranians have whether inside the country or outside of it can be illustrated by the fact that the staff members have endured such intimidation for over twelve months. In October 2017, Special Procedure mandate holders issued a statement calling upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to cease all legal action against the staff and their families, and to cease the use of repressive legislation against independent journalism.”
At the time of the asset-freezing injunction, the Association for International Broadcasting lodged a complaint with the Iranian Ambassador in London. The AIB received no acknowledgement or response to the complaint.