Iran has been pressuring Persian-language reporters working abroad for foreign media outlets — and their families – to influence the news being reported about the Islamic Republic, charged Reporters Without Borders in a newly released report.
The report documents the harassment, death threats and financial pressure the regime has been applying to employees from various networks including BBC Persian, Radio Farda (Radio Free Europe’s Persian-language section), Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and Radio France Internationale.
The journalists are Iranian citizens, many of whom still have family in Iran. This year alone, 50 journalists abroad were harassed by Iranian judicial and security services with 16 of them receiving death threats.
Ten families of journalists still in Iran have been summoned to interviews with intelligence services. The message relayed is always the same – to tell their loved ones to “stop collaborating with enemy media” immediately.
The report states that since 2012, at least five journalists were arrested after returning to Iran and given sentences ranging from three to 12 years in prison.
Even former employees are not immune. For example, Iran froze the assets of 150 former staff members and contributors of BBC Persian staff, which prevents them from conducting financial transactions in the country.
While it is impossible to know how this pressure is affecting their reporting, one reporter commented, “When your father calls and an intelligence ministry agent takes the phone and says, ‘Your father is here and we’re talking about you,’ and you know that your family is being harassed and is in danger of being arrested, how can you write freely? After members of my family had been summoned for questioning, I could no longer work as I had before.”
Another Iranian journalist based in London said, “While staying with me, a member of my family was instructed to take photos of my house, my street and, if possible, my workplace and my colleagues.”
Still another journalist reported, “I’ve had to stop writing under my real name ever since my wife was arrested during a trip to Iran.”
Reporters without Borders notes the harassment has been on-going since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, but current methods under “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani are “more subtle” than those that occurred in previous times.