Ahead of Elections, Arrests and Coerced Confessions Ramp Up
Authorities Intensify Campaign Against BBC Persian
Journalists and Their Family Members Targeted
(2 February 2012) The Iranian judiciary should immediately stop its widespread campaign of intimidation against journalists and their family members, theInternational Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.
The Campaign also called for an end to the illegal coercion of detainees. The Campaign expressed serious concern over the videotaping of false confessions and the possibility of politically motivated broadcasts ahead of the 2 March 2012 parliamentary elections.
“Harassing journalists, activists, and their family members shows the inhumane and unlawful practices the Iranian intelligence services use to silence these people,” said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the Campaign. “Any televised confession by these detainees released in the run-up to the March parliamentary election would likely be politically motivated and false.”
In the past month, Iranian intelligence and security forces have arrested at least nine independent journalists and writers, including Parastoo Dokouhaki, Marzieh Rassouli, and Sahamoddin Bouraghani. Family members of Iranian journalists living abroad, including the family member of a BBC Persian employee in London, have also been harassed, questioned, or detained.
Intelligence agents have been pressuring a number of these detainees to make on-camera confessions. Interrogators have been particularly focused on the BBC, pressuring some of these detainees to say that they have cooperated with and provided information to the BBC, a source close to their families told the Campaign.
“In recent months, direct actions against the BBC by Iran have intensified,” Sadeq Saba, director of BBC Persian TV, told the Campaign. “We have witnessed increasing levels of intimidation, as well as attempts to interfere with our independence. The Iranian government has detained and summoned a number of people allegedly working for the BBC Persian Service. There have also been cases of intimidation, questioning, and detention involving relatives of BBC staff.”
Since June 2009, intelligence agents have obtained and broadcast coerced confessions from detainees in order to intimidate journalists and activists, defame their political opponents, and convict defendants in court.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Iranian intelligence agents are planning to stage a televised program using highly distorted and edited footage of various detainees. At least one of the recent detainees is under tremendous pressure to admit to connections to the BBC on camera, a source told the Campaign.
“Televised confessions reek of due process violations and coercion and should be seen as false,” said Ghaemi. “The government may choose to air these confessions in order to create public anxiety about foreign intervention in Iran’s election, led by foreign media outlets like the BBC.”
Since 2009, BBC Persian, an important news source for millions of Iranians, has emerged to challenge the government’s narratives in a variety of areas, including Iran’s domestic politics and its struggle with the international community. Iranian officials repeatedly cite BBC Persian’s reporting as evidence of a foreign plot to undermine the regime.
Saba said, “We consider [the recent arrests and intimidation] to be part of ongoing efforts by the Iranian government to put pressure on the BBC for the impartial and balanced coverage of its Persian language TV of events in Iran and the wider region.”
In late January 2012, authorities seized a family member of a BBC Persian employee based in London and pressured the family member to denounce the employee’s work with BBC Persian. “A family member of one of the BBC Persian employees was detained and pressured to make online connections with the BBC employee,” said Saba of BBC. “During that communication the BBC employee was remotely interrogated to get information about BBC,” he continued.
“This is an inhumane and malicious act,” Saba said. “We strongly condemn it. It sets a new precedent for the Islamic Republic.”
Since 2005, Reporters Without Borders has documented at least 50 cases of harassment of family members of Iranian journalists living abroad.
“The family members of our employees are innocent and vulnerable in the hands of the Islamic Republic, which, with such actions, is exerting pressure on innocent people,” Saba said. “Our employees are adults and their family members have no control over what their family members do.”
The director of BBC Persian TV added, “BBC would like to reiterate that its Persian language service does not have a presence in Iran. No staff whatsoever, no reporters, no stringers. Any confessions [to that effect] broadcast will be completely baseless, false, and pre-planned, and would have been taken under coercion.”
Security forces have also jammed BBC Persian’s satellite broadcast from within Iran. On 17 September 2011, BBC reported that the jamming intensified “just as the channel had begun broadcasting a documentary about Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.” That same day, Iranian authorities detained six independent documentary filmmakers: Mohsen Shahrnazdar, Hadi Afarideh, Katayoun Shahabi, Naser Safarian, Shahnam Bazdar, and Mojtaba Mir Tahmaseb.
Several of these filmmakers were also under pressure to make false confessions. A family member of one of the filmmakers told the Campaign that interrogators said to a detainee, “Just speak out against the BBC, tell people not to talk to the BBC, and apologize for what you have done.” The family member added, “A number of the detainees agreed to appear on camera so they could escape the pressure and get out sooner.”
“These attacks against BBC and the wave of arrests of domestic journalists, writers, and activists are an attempt to silence them,” said Ghaemi, spokesperson for the Campaign. “It is clear the government is trying to swap independent voices with their own political and ideological narrative.”
The Campaign previously reported that six journalists were detained in January 2012. Authorities detained at least three more: journalist Said Razavi Faghih, civil society activist Yasser Yousefzadeh, and director of Iranian professional network U24 Mohammad Soleimani Nia.