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Violence and threats against journalists reporting on Iran from abroad must stop, warn UN experts

30 May 2024

GENEVA (30 May 2024) – UN experts* today condemned violence, threats, intimidation against the Persian language news service Iran International, its journalists and staff and its owner Volant Media UK Limited.

Such acts are part of wider pattern of repression against Persian language media services, including BBC News Persian, they said.

“We are deeply alarmed that death threats and intimidation against Iran International staff escalated into the violent stabbing of journalist Pouria Zeraati outside his home in London on 29 March 2024,” the experts said. “Such attacks not only violate the human rights to life and personal security but are also aimed at suppressing freedom of expression and the media, including legitimate criticism of the Iranian Government.”

Since its founding in 2017, Iran International and its staff have been subject to threats, harassment and prolific abuse on social media by Iranian authorities and their proxies, aimed at silencing critical media reporting on Iran. These threats escalated after the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests that spread across Iran in 2022, with Persian media abroad being falsely blamed for fueling unrest, the experts said.

There have been at least 15 credible Iranian plots to kill or kidnap people in the United Kingdom since 2022, according to the experts.

British counter-terrorism police warned two Iran International personnel, including Volant’s General Manager, Mahmoud Enayat, of imminent threats to their lives in November 2022, which led them to flee the United Kingdom. A plot to kill two television presenters, including Fardad Farahzad, was thwarted in November 2023.

Due to the risk to its staff, Iran International was forced to temporarily close its London studios in February 2023 for six months, on the advice of British police.

“We are concerned that these attacks and threats may have a chilling effect on journalists inside and outside Iran,” the experts said.

Transnational repression of journalists reporting on Iran has also occurred elsewhere. In September 2023, Iran International journalist Kian Amani was physically and verbally assaulted by a member of Iran’s delegation to the United Nations at a hotel in New York.

Iran also imposed travel and financial sanctions on Volant Media and Iran International in 2022 for supposedly supporting terrorism and froze the assets of the owners and their family members in Iran in 2019.

“We deplore the blatant misuse of counter-terrorism law against journalists, which violates freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, the right to travel, privacy, family rights, the right to reputation and due process and judicial safeguards,” the experts said.

They said the threats against Iran International were part of a pattern of threats and attacks against Persian language media and dissidents outside Iran, including journalists working for BBC News Persian, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, IranWire and Radio Farda.

“We urge Iran to refrain from violence, threats and intimidation against Iran International and its staff, online and offline, and other journalists and media workers reporting on Iran from abroad, and to investigate and prosecute those responsible for such acts,” the experts said.

*The experts: Ben Saul, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Gina Romero, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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