Hundreds of UK journalists, activists threatened by Iran - report

A “hostile Iranian surveillance team” was reportedly spotted outside the homes and offices of Iranian journalists in the UK.

 A police officer stands on duty outside the Iranian embassy in Kensington, central London December 2, 2011. (photo credit: TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS)
A police officer stands on duty outside the Iranian embassy in Kensington, central London December 2, 2011.
(photo credit: TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS)

Hundreds of journalists and political activists in the UK have received letters from British counterterrorism police in recent months warning that they may be targeted by Iran due to their opposition to the Islamic Republic, The Sunday Times reported early Sunday morning.

One letter, sent by police to a London-based journalist, warned that Iranians had been lured back to countries near Iran and then abducted by the Iranian government and sentenced to death. It also warned that the Iranian government has been seen to “direct physical attacks against dissidents in Europe.”

In the letter, police asked that the recipient notify them of any concerns about their safety or any suspicious approaches.

A spokesman for UK Counter Terrorism Policing told the Times that the letters were sent to Iranians across the country “in light of serious concerns about media reports of instances where Iranian nationals had been detained and returned to Iran by Iranian authorities, before being arrested and charged with various offences.”

Aliasghar Ramezanpoor, the founder of the London-based Iran International news agency, told the Times that “As long as they [IRGC agents] see their threats have an effect, they keep doing more. We try and ignore the threats when we do our job. But of course, we take them very seriously when we are at home or with our transport.”

 Iranian protests in front of security forces in Saqqez, November 2022 (credit: 1500tasvir) Iranian protests in front of security forces in Saqqez, November 2022 (credit: 1500tasvir)

The Iranian journalist has been visited by police officers four times in the past half a year and is now under protection.

“Of course, I am keeping in mind [my] security needs but I think it’s not just us that are under threat, every journalist in Iran they are in the same situation. It is part of our job when we are working around Iran’s government,” said Ramezanpoor to the Times.

Last week, the Telegraph reported that an Iranian hit squad was operating in London and had been deployed to murder two British journalists working for a Farsi-language television station.

The recent heightened alert around Iranian threats came after a “hostile Iranian surveillance team” was spotted outside the homes and offices of the channel's senior journalists, according to the report.

Iran using local criminals in new modus operandi

London-based Iranian journalist Potkin Azarmehr has also been contacted by police concerning threats to his life, telling the Times that he had been told that Iran has “changed its modus operandi” and was potentially hiring criminals overseas to carry out attacks. 

“It could be as simple as standing at a Tube station and somebody pushes you in front of a train. Or it could be a manufactured road rage incident. These could be people paid by the Iranian state.”

London-based Iranian journalist Potkin Azarmehr

“These are not necessarily trained agents but professional hitmen may be paid to carry out assassinations,” said Azarmehr. “I was told it could be as simple as standing at a Tube station and somebody pushes you in front of a train. Or it could be a manufactured road rage incident. These could be people paid by the Iranian state.”

The use of criminals to conduct operations for the Iranian government has also been reported in Turkey, with the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak reporting on Wednesday that a drug gang led by a man sentenced to death in Iran was tasked with plans to assassinate Israeli tourists in Turkey earlier this year. Iranian authorities promised to overturn the man's death sentence if he carried out the planned assassinations.

Iranian minister threatens UK over ongoing protests

Last week, Iran's Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib issued a threat against the UK, claiming that the country was leading “propaganda” efforts and feeding the ongoing protests sweeping Iran since the killing of Mahsa Amini by Iranian “morality police.”

Khatib complained that the US, UK, Israel and Saudi Arabia had conducted “the greatest ‘influence operation’ on a country taken to destabilize that country and create unrest in it through hybrid warfare.”

“Unlike England, we will never support acts of terrorism and the creation of insecurity in other countries,” said Khatib. “However, we also have no obligation to prevent insecurity in those countries either. Therefore, England will pay for the measures it has taken to try to make Iran insecure.”

Khatib additionally threatened the Iran International news network, based in London, calling it a “terrorist organization” and warning that its “operatives” would be pursued by Iranian intelligence. It was unclear if the minister was threatening to attack reporters in British territory.

“From here on, any kind of connection with this terrorist organization will be considered to be tantamount to entering the field of terrorism and a threat to national security,” warned the minister.

Elham Afkari, the brother of executed Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari, was arrested last week on charges that she had been working with Iran International. Her family vehemently denies that she had any connection with any news agency.

Iran International warns of ‘credible threats’ to journalists

Volant Media, the parent company of Iran International, reported on Monday that there were “credible threats” made by the IRGC against journalists working for Iran International in the UK.

“Two of our British-Iranian journalists have, in recent days, been notified of an increase in the threats to them. The Metropolitan Police have now formally notified both journalists that these threats represent an imminent, credible and significant risk to their lives and those of their families. Other members of our staff have also been informed directly by the Metropolitan Police of separate threats,” said the company.

“Our journalists are subject to abuse 24/7 on social media. But these threats to life of British-Iranian journalists working in the UK mark a significant and dangerous escalation of a state-sponsored campaign to intimidate Iranian journalists working abroad. These lethal threats to British citizens on British soil come after several weeks of warnings from the IRGC and Iranian government about the work of a free and uncensored Farsi-language media working in London.”

Members of the British parliament expressed outrage in light of the reported threats, calling for the UK to declare the IRGC a terrorist organization.

UK foreign secretary summons Iranian diplomat over threats

On Friday, the British foreign secretary summoned Iran's Chargé d’Affaires in London following “a series of serious threats against journalists living in the UK.”

“The UK will always stand up to threats from foreign nations. I summoned the Iranian representative today to make clear that we do not tolerate threats to life and intimidation of any kind towards journalists, or any individual, living in the UK,” said Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.

“The Iranian regime has responded to widespread internal protests with the suppression of freedom of expression and the targeting of media outlets operating in Iran. More than 40 journalists have been arrested and detained.”