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UN Special Rapporteur on Iran 'deplores' persecution of BBC Persian staff & families

14 March 2019

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Professor Javaid Rehman, has presented his first report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In his address, Professor Rehman raised with concern the ongoing persecution and harassment of BBC News Persian staff and their families by Iran.

Speaking in the Human Rights Council, Professor Rehman said he "deplores" the harassment of BBC Persian staff. His remarks raised concern about the ongoing, collective criminal investigation of BBC Persian staff and the asset-freeze which affects them and their families in Iran. He reiterated the seriousness of the persecution, which was also raised by his predecessor Asma Jahangir, including arbitrary detention and interrogation of family members in Iran. Professor Rehman also raised concern about the attacks on BBC Persian journalists in Iranian state media, in particular with fake and defamatory news being published to undermine their reputations.

The BBC made its unprecedented urgent appeal to the UN in late 2017. It is the first time in BBC history that the corporation has engaged with the UN over the protection of its journalists. Both the UN Special Rapporteur and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres raised concern about the persecution of BBC Persian in their reports to the 40th session of the Human Rights Council.

The UK government mission to the United Nations raised concern with the "deteriorating" situation for freedom of expression in Iran. The UK highlighted that the "judicial harassment of BBC Persian staff and their families continues" and called upon Iran to cease the criminal investigation into BBC journalists and the harassment of their families.

Rana Rahimpour, a BBC Persian presenter, addressed the council about her personal experience of the persecution, explaining how her father was subjected to a travel ban to prevent him from visiting her after her first child was born. She thanked the UN Secretary General for raising the case and raised concern about the reprisals against BBC Persian staff, explaining that "my colleagues have been warned against participating in our UN advocacy work by the Iranian authorities."

International counsel for the BBC World Service, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, have filed a further UN complaint over the reprisals BBC Persian journalists have faced for engaging with the UN. They said: "Reprisals against BBC Persian journalists and their families for engaging with the UN is not just an attack on freedom of expression, but an attack on the integrity of the UN system. Such reprisals must be condemned in the strongest possible terms."

Michelle Stanistreet of the National Union of Journalists 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 for 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."

An event was held this week at the Human Rights Council co-hosted by the BBC, the International Federation of Journalists and Doughty Street International to discuss the broader implications of the persecution of BBC Persian. 

Simon Spanswick from the Association for International Broadcasting - a network which broadcasts to 1 billion viewers each week - explained how the persecution of BBC Persian is "among the worst cases globally" and is indicative of a worrying trend of harassment of journalists and broadcasters in their network.

At the event, the UK Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, said: "UK calls on Iran to cease the harassment of BBC Persian staff and their families - and the persecution of all independent journalists whether affiliated with the BBC or not". He condemned the reprisals faced by BBC Persian staff.

Referring to the recent media freedom initiative announced by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Ambassador Braithwaite said: "This case is one of the reasons we are making press freedom a particular focus for the UK. Iran’s treatment of BBC journalists will be a key part of our upcoming media freedom summit."

The UN Special Rapporteur, Professor Rehman reiterated at the HRC event: "I will continue to urge Iran to cease its harassment of BBC Persian staff and their families."

Tags: , bbc persian service, bbc, broadcasting, united nations, united nations human rights council, un, journalist safety, journalists in the uk, journalists intimidated, journalists' rights, bbc world service