RSF therefore reminds you, the leaders of six European nations (France, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Czech Republic and Sweden) and the United States, that you have a duty to protect Iranian journalists living in your countries, and urges you to intercede directly with the Iranian government to defend the fundamental right to news and information.
Iran’s media, which are subject to close government control, have refrained from covering major domestic events, including the massive anti-government protests in many of the country’s cities that began last November.
At the same time, in reaction to these protests and to international coverage of events in Iran, the Iranian government has stepped up its threats against Iranian journalists abroad working for the Persian-language services of the BBC, Voice of America (VOA), Radio Farda (Radio Free Europe), DW (Deutsche Welle), RFI (Radio France Internationale), and Radio Zamaneh, and for privately-owned Iranian exile media such as the Iran international and Manoto TV channels and the Kayhan London and IranWire news websites.
The Islamic Republic wants to silence these media outlets, which are the only independent news sources for many Iranians. The ministry of intelligence openly targeted one of these outlets, Iran International, in a 30 November statement, announcing “the confiscation of the property of [its] journalists and contributors” and describing them as “enemies of the Islamic Republic” and “terrorists.”
The threats against Iranian journalists abroad have taken the form of cyber-attacks, insults and intimidation on social media. Journalists working for London-based media have even been threatened with “abduction on the street and forced return to Iran.”
The Iranian authorities also pressure these journalists by harassing their close relatives still in Iran, who are called in for questioning by the intelligence services. These relatives then contact the journalists by email or via social media to report what happened to them.
Revolutionary Guard plainclothesmen arrested Alireza Alinejad, the brother of journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, on 26 September. “They took him hostage in order to silence me,” she said, at the same as she posted video footage filmed before his arrest in which he reported that he and his parents were being pressured to publicly condemn her activities.
An Iranian journalist based in France who asked not to be identified said there has been a significant increase in harassment, including death threats, in the past two months. “While we’re cutting your throat, we’ll take a story from you and put in on your webpage,” one message said. Another said: “When we’ve killed you in a horrible fashion, the others will understand and will shut up for ever.”
BBC journalist Farnaz Ghazizadeh tweeted on 23 November: “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.”
Mojtaba Pourmohsen, a London-based journalist working for Iran International, told The Times newspaper that intelligence officials had called his 75-year-old father and younger sister in for questioning: “They told them to tell me to resign in a week and come back to Tehran. They said that if I don’t resign, they will go to London and return me to Iran.”
According to RSF’s tally, around 200 Iranian journalists living outside Iran (mainly in Europe and the United States) have received harassing messages, of which around 50 have been death threats.
RSF calls on you, the leaders of the host countries, to explicitly condemn such behaviour, which endangers press freedom, to defend the fundamental right to news and information and to provide threatened journalists with physical protection. RSF also urges all journalists who have received threats to report them to the authorities in the country where they live, and asks the media they work for to support and facilitate this, although it could lead to additional pressure.
Iran is ranked 179th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.