“Watch out because we’re coming for you”: An RSF report on unprecedented transnational repression of Iranian journalists in the UK

Three weeks after an Iranian journalist was stabbed on a London street by unknown assailants, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is releasing a report on the rise of transnational threats against Iranian journalists working in the United Kingdom.  We call on Iran to stop all such attacks on the press, and on the UK government to take all necessary measures to ensure all journalists can operate freely and without fear.


This report, which documents a chilling and far-reaching threat to fundamental freedoms, should act as a wake-up call to UK authorities, and to democracies worldwide. Exiled Iranian journalists have shown remarkable courage and resilience in continuing to report in the face of such threats, but far more must be done to support and protect them. Iran must stop targeting journalists and, in the UK, the government, law enforcement agencies, social media platforms and employers must work together to do everything they can to ensure all journalists can do their jobs unimpeded.

Fiona O'Brien
RSF UK Bureau Director

'Watch Out Because We're Coming For You: Transnational Repression of Iranian Journalists in the UK

For decades, Iran’s brutal repression of independent journalism at home has been accompanied by the systematic targeting of journalists reporting on Iran from abroad, in an effort to silence them. Iranian journalists working in countries as far afield as the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, and the UK are often subjected to intimidation or attacks, both online and offline. 

London, home to major Persian-language broadcasters, has been a hotspot for such attacks because of the large number of Iranian journalists based there. This report from RSF, based on testimony gathered in 2023 from dozens of exiled Iranian journalists who work in the UK,  shows that the level of transnational threat to Iranian journalists is unprecedented and comes at enormous professional and personal cost. 

It also reveals that, though they work in a country which professes to champion press freedom, the impact of transnational repression on Iranian journalists in the UK has not been adequately addressed by government, law enforcement, or social media platforms, in part because their plight has tended to be seen as a foreign priority, not a domestic one. 

The report draws on a survey of journalists working at a variety of news media including BBC News Persian, Iran International and Manoto, and on more than twenty extended interviews with journalists and employers. 

Eight key findings of the report are:

  • Online attacks have risen exponentially

Almost 90% of journalists surveyed said they had experienced online threats or harassment in the last five years, with 50% reporting they received them frequently. These include death and rape threats, phishing attempts, impersonation and cyberattacks. 

  • Many attacks are gendered 

Women are particularly likely to be frequently abused online, receiving messages that are sexualised, misogynistic or defamatory. Female survey respondents said they or their family members had been sent explicit images, been the subject of campaigns to besmirch their reputations, and received graphic rape and death threats – sometimes as often as daily.

  • The harassment of family members in Iran continues apace

Around 60% of RSF survey respondents said their families had experienced threats or intimidation related to their work as journalists. This includes being called in for interrogations, applying economic penalties such as asset freezes or job loss, the removal of passports, travel bans, surveillance, tapping phone calls and detentions. 

  • The impact on journalists, and on journalism, is devastating

The sustained exposure to threats and abuse, online and offline, leads to anxiety, suicidal thoughts, hypervigilance, disruption to family life, exhaustion, an inability to sleep, and isolation. Three quarters of survey respondents said they had experienced psychological stress, anxiety or feelings of vulnerability as a result of threats and harassment. Journalists report self-censorship, needing time off work, leaving social media platforms, or leaving work altogether. 

  • The threat comes from multiple actors

The Iranian government and its proxies are the principal source of threats and harassment, but not the only one. The last 10 years have also seen a rise in harassment from opposition groups, political activists and other members of the Iranian diaspora who accuse journalists of being sympathetic to the regime. For journalists on the receiving end of such abuse, it feels like hostility comes from all sides. 

  • The response of social media platforms has been inadequate

Journalists’ experiences of reporting online abuse have been overwhelmingly negative. Many respondents said complaints made to social media platforms were either ignored or dealt with in an unsatisfactory manner. 

  • The response from UK police has been mixed

Larger organisations said they were well supported by police, including through the provision of training for their staff. However, on an individual level many journalists reported negative experiences reporting attacks to police, who did not understand the context or gravity of the threats they faced. The lack of follow-up or prosecutions has led to a breakdown in trust: only 13% of respondents said they had reported abuse to police in the last five years, with many feeling it would be a waste of time. 

  • Government needs to do more

RSF calls on the UK government to include transnational repression of journalists in the National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists; to provide rapid response protection mechanisms for journalists facing serious threats; to hold social media platforms accountable for dealing with online violence against journalists; and to work with law enforcement agencies to ensure transnational crimes against journalists under UK jurisdiction are systematically investigated and prosecuted. The UK should also establish clear legal pathways for journalists forced to flee their home countries to enter the UK. 


Published on
Updated on 17.04.2024

Document lié