State Dept: US condemns harassment of Iranian reporters abroad

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the intelligence agency "harassment" toward Iranian journalists who are based abroad, especially toward those working out of Britain.

Iranian pro-government protesters attend a demonstration in Tehran (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian pro-government protesters attend a demonstration in Tehran
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook has condemned the recent actions of the Islamic Republic, in which they labelled Iranian journalists working in locations abroad as "collaborators" in foreign plots to overthrow the current regime, and in succession labelling these journalists as terrorists in their home country based solely on their employment.
"The Iranian establishment has attacked reporters working at VOA Persian service, Radio Farda, and the BBC," Hook wrote on Twitter. "The United States of America condemns harassment of the reporters and their families, while it continues to take decisive steps toward supporting the freedom of expression and the media.”
This condemnation comes shortly after London-based Iran International Television came under scrutiny by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry last week, claiming that employees working for the broadcasting company are "proof of collaboration in terrorist actions with the enemies of Iran."
The ministry added that security officials have arrested numerous Iranians on charges of sharing information with the station, proclaiming it an issue of national defense.
Iran International is a private broadcasting company owned and licensed within the United Kingdom, with no affiliation to the Islamic Republic.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the intelligence agency "harassment" toward Iranian journalists who are based abroad, especially toward those based in Britain, including continued intimidation and threats toward their relatives still living in Iran, carried by members of the Revolutionary Guard.
"The threats are targeting Iranian journalists working for international media such as the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Farda and privately-owned Iranian exile media, such as the Iran International and Manoto TV channels and the Kayhan London news website," RSF said. "According to the information gathered by RSF, the threats against Iranian journalists based abroad often take the form of online attacks, insults and intimidation, mainly on social networks."
According to the Paris-based RSF, Iran is now 170th out of 180 in their press freedom rankings, dropping six places on the year. In addtion, Iranian defense officials have even terrorized Iran-based family members of journalists working for Persian-language media organizations based outside the Islamic Republic, coercing them to request their relatives of the media step down from their positions, by way of directed threats, intimidation and arrests directed at the families.
“My 73-year-old father has been summoned and questioned by Iranian authorities in relation with my sister and myself working for the media outside Iran. Our families are under pressure just because we are journalists," said Farnaz Ghazizadeh, a BBC journalist, in a rare proclamation via Twitter, considering most Iranian media members fear further harassment by being named publicly as targets.
Iran has on occasion arrested suspected conspirators working with foreign media who they believe are attempting to expose faults in the Iranian government as a means to assist "enemies" of the state to topple the regime. Diaspora based Persian media outlets say these claims are baseless and used as a way for the Islamic Republic to control the news cycle and their emigrated citizens from afar.
Iranian journalist working abroad normally tend to avoid travelling to the Islamic Republic for fear of being prosecuted. In August 2016, Iran sanctioned 150 employees working for BBC Persia from making financial transactions within the country – this includes selling already held properties within Iran – recently employees of Radio Farda have been the target of these financial sanctions as well.
"Those employees of these channels who repent and stop collaborating with satellite television channels will be treated with Islamic mercy and compassion," said the Iranian Intelligence Ministry in a statement.
RSF notes that there has been a recent escalation in threats directed at foreign-based Persian media outlets and employees, especially in the United Kingdom, following the appointment of former director of political affairs and international security for Iran's Foreign Ministry Hamid Baeidinejad, who now serves as the Iranian ambassador to the UK.
The London ambassador threatens these journalists mainly through channels such as Twitter and uses his diplomatic immunity to accuse them of being "agents and mercenaries of foreign services, paid by the country’s enemies and acting against the national interest."
While a BBC reporter covered a protest outside his embassy, he accused the journalist of interviewing a group of terrorists (i.e. the protesters) – these threats stemming from officials of his stature are always recorded in Persian, never English even though these are UK-based organizations they are targeting.
“Threatening citizens, in particular, a country’s journalists and media outlets, are not part of an ambassador’s attributions,” RSF said. “The British authorities should monitor these activities, which pose a threat to press freedom and a danger to journalists.”
“The Iranian people will never forget these days in which enemy TV channels such as the BBC, VOA, Manoto and Iran International – subsidized by the money of foreign governments and the Pahlavi (the former shah or king of Iran) group – have put Iran in danger by trying to portray the rioters, who are murderers and arsonists, as political dissidents,” Baeidinejad said two days following the widespread Internet shutdown in Iran after protests in the Islamic Republic turned deadly when protesters clashed with Revolutionary Guard forces attempting to calm the storm.
The Internet shutdown was an attempt to suppress media coverage of the violent protests from spreading throughout the entirety of the country, media coverage they believed would have caused further insolency towards Iranian officials and cause for a public uprising – which they have the ability to do because the created their own centralized Internet for the country, to do just that – censor social media channels, television broadcasts (including all BBC channels) and countless websites in order to benefit government interest and to block content they deem to be inappropriate or disrespect the country's strict Islamic laws.
“Internet shutdowns are increasingly becoming a tool for governments all over the world to silence media reporting and restricting the fundamental right of citizens to have free access to information," International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) general secretary Anthony Bellanger said. "The IFJ reported that 30 countries have closed media and blocked Internet access so far in 2019, evidencing the global trend to control citizens’ media and Internet access. We urge the Iranian authorities to lift the blockade and stop the repression against the demonstrators."
According to the Internet watchdog Netblocks, the country-wide shutdown began at 6:45 a.m. the day after the protests began – leaving just seven percent of normal Internet functionality and connectivity available throughout Iran.
“The decision to shut down the Internet for at least 24 hours was initiated by the High Council for Security and conveyed to all operators in the country," the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said, according to IRNA news.
Amnesty International said it derived its death toll of at least 106 protesters killed in 21 cities from witness reports, verified videos and information from human rights activists.
It said the authorities were taking dead bodies from the streets and refusing to return them or forcing families to bury them in haste.
Iran's UN mission dismissed the casualty reports as "speculative, not reliable," unless confirmed by the Tehran government.
"The baseless allegations and fabricated figures by biased Western entities do not shake government's determination in making prudent economic decisions,” mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi tweeted.
Internet censorship in Iran has already been classified as pervasive to its citizens. At any given time, the Iranian government blocks up to 27% of all computer websites, according to a survey performed by Sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are officially banned by the country and there is a new push to place Instagram on that list as well.