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European parliament votes to stop harassment of BBC Persian journalists & their families

14 March 2019

For the first time, the European Parliament has addressed the ongoing persecution and harassment of BBC Persian staff and their families. The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution criticising Iran’s treatment of human rights defenders, human rights lawyers and journalists.

The resolution states that: "freedom of the press, both on and offline, freedom of association, and freedom of thought are repressed in Iran" and that "Iranian authorities have systematically targeted journalists, including those working for the BBC Persian service, and their families, through the use of criminal investigations, asset freezes, arbitrary arrest, detention, surveillance, harassment, and by spreading false, malicious, and defamatory publicity." The resolution "demands that the authorities in Iran stop the surveillance, arrest, harassment, and prosecution of journalists, online activists, and their families, end online censorship, and calls for the creation of conditions which tolerate freedom of expression and freedom of the media both on and offline."

Speaking in the Parliament in Strasbourg, Jude Kirton-Darling MEP said that, "the Iranian authorities have been systematically targeting BBC Persian staff and are moving onto the staff of other European broadcasters as well… Many of those affected are EU/ Iranian dual nationals, mostly British Iranians." She described how 152 staff have been subjected to an unfair asset freeze, and their families in Iran endure arbitrary arrest, travel bans and harassment. She added: "I would particularly like to raise awareness about the sexualised defamation campaigns being waged against brave female journalists at BBC Persian and I would call on the EU to no longer be silent about this attack on European women, European journalists. We have a duty and a responsibility to defend free journalism."

The Joint Motion for a Resolution was supported by six political groups, including ECR (which includes Conservative MEPs from the UK), S&D (which includes Labour MEPs) and Verts/ ALE (which includes the Green Party). The full text of the resolution, which was passed unamended, is available online.

Today’s motion is passed in the same week that Iran’s harassment of BBC Persian was raised before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Professor Javaid Rehman. In his first report to the UNHRC, Rehman said he "deplores" the harassment of BBC Persian staff. The UK in their address to the Council and the UK Permanent Representative to the UN also spoke in support of BBC Persian in Geneva at a side-event co-hosted by BBC Persian, the International Federation of Journalists and Doughty Street Chambers.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"The Iranian authorities have been systematically targeting BBC Persian journalists in the UK, and their families in Iran, since the service launched satellite television in 2009. Our campaign to stop the harassment will persist until the authorities stop targeting NUJ members for simply doing their jobs. Both the asset freeze and criminal investigations into the activities of journalists and other staff working for BBC Persian should be dropped."

Jeremy Dear, IFJ deputy general secretary, said:

"The persecution must stop. Condemned by the UN, the European Parliament and press freedom campaigners across the globe the Iranian government must halt the harassment, ditch the injunction, end the asset freeze and stop trying to silence independent media voices".

Tarik Kafala, Controller of BBC World Service Languages, added: 

"This has been another important day for BBC Persian. It is encouraging that so many are now aware of what has been happening to our staff and their families and are speaking out in support of media freedom."

International counsel for the BBC World Service, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, welcomed the European Parliament’s passing of this resolution today, saying:

"This is a historic day for BBC Persian: for the first time, the European Parliament has considered the harassment of BBC Persian staff and their families by Iran, and it has condemned this harassment in the strongest possible terms. We must remember that the Iranian authorities’ ongoing attacks on freedom of expression are not only devastating and damaging to the affected journalists and their loved ones. They also prevent audiences in Iran and around the world from having access to fair, full and independent reporting about matters of intense public interest. It is critical, now more than ever, that the international community takes action to protect freedom of expression in and concerning Iran."

Tags: , bbc, bbc world service, bbc persian service, journalist safety, journalists in the uk, european parliament, united nations, united nations human rights council, european resolution, broadcasting, ifj