Iran's targeting of journalists raised at UN Human Rights Council

  • 17 Mar 2023

 Iran’s extra-territorial targeting of journalists in the UK, Germany and across Europe has attracted criticism and concern at the 52nd session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva.

At a side event to the session on Friday 17 March, jointly hosted by BBC World Service and Deutsche Welle (DW), serious concerns were raised regarding Iran’s significant increase in threats directed towards BBC News Persian and DW staff since Mahsa Amini’s death in Iran in September 2022 and the subsequent protests seen across the country.  Escalating risks to journalists reporting on Iran, outside Iran, were discussed with State missions to the United Nations in Geneva.

Speaking by video at the event, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Professor Javaid Rehman, said that Iran’s actions against BBC Persian journalists violate the provisions of the international covenants, treaties and obligations, to which Iran is a state party and signatory:

Rehman said:

“I am extremely concerned that such attacks to silence journalists violate the fundamental rights of journalists and are an assault on the principles of transparency, democracy and accountability. It is also regrettable that, in these circumstances, there is a chilling effect that is produced on the work of other journalists in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and indeed elsewhere, who are reporting on the country, and may deter them from reporting on issues of public interest and of public importance.”

In his video address, BBC World Service news controller, Tarik Kafala, said that the pressures on the BBC Persian staff have never been greater and that there are constant attempts to undermine the audiences’ trust in BBC Persian and challenge the motivation for its work:

He said:

“We stand with all of our BBC Persian journalists and we stand by their journalism.  We will not tolerate abuse, wherever it comes from. We will absolutely support our staff.  We object to any action by the Iranian authorities aimed at targeting them, their families and our journalism in the strongest possible terms. We welcome the UN’s consistent support for BBC Persian staff and their families and will continue to make our case to the world community until this completely unacceptable harassment ends.”

Head of DW Persian Service, Yalda Zarbakhch, said at the event:

“We are extremely concerned about the safety of our staff at DW Persian working in Germany and their families living in Iran. Since DW has been put on the sanctions list by the Iranian government, classifying journalists as terrorists for doing their legitimate work, we have seen a new level of threats. Family members are brought in sometimes daily by the authorities for interrogations. Pressure on our staff is constant. DW urges to recognise the paramount importance of independent reporting out of Iran and for the Iranian people, and that the safety of journalists and the freedom of the media is non-negotiable.”  

Since 2017, BBC World Service has filed a number of UN complaints over the treatment of BBC News Persian staff and their families, represented by Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC and Jennifer Robinson at Doughty Street Chambers,  and supported by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC and Jennifer Robinson, counsel for BBC World Service, stated:

 “The targeting of BBC journalists by Iran is unlawful and designed to stifle and censor independent and objective reporting on events in Iran. The death threats, arbitrary detention of family members and economic sanctions imposed on BBC News Persian journalists violate international law and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Iran’s targeting and harassment of journalists inside and outside of Iran has now spread beyond that directed at BBC News Persian, underlining the need for urgent action from the UN and UN member states.”

Jeremy Dear, IFJ deputy general secretary, stressed in his video address the need for the special rapporteurs to understand the societal impact of the Iranian regime’s action in denying citizens, at home and abroad, the right to independent information.

He said:

“But also governments in the UK, Germany and other countries need to take more seriously too the threats to journalists and their families.” He pledged “the IFJ’s continued support for all those journalists at risk until they can report freely from London, from Bonn, or from Tehran.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“The escalation in the targeting of UK-based journalists by Iran and the weaponising of their families is of enormous concern to the NUJ. It is having a profound impact on all journalists affected, impeding their daily lives and causing deep anxiety and strain for them and their loved ones. Iran’s strategic threats are clearly intended to send a collective message to journalists and media outlets that work hard to report and shine a light on events in Iran. The NUJ calls on the UN and its member states to act robustly to bring this targeting and abuse to an end.”

BBC News Persian is a multimedia news and current-affairs service with a weekly audience of 18.9m (BBC Global Audience Measure 2022). As part of BBC World Service,  it delivers accurate and impartial news, information and analysis from a global perspective to Persian-speakers around the world. 

Return to listing