Reporters Without Borders condemns the Iranian government’s targeting of the BBC’s Farsi-language TV station, BBC Persian. Its satellite signal was jammed on 16 September when it broadcast a documentary about the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The next day, pro-government media announced the arrest of several of the station’s “collaborators” in Iran.
Culture and Islamic guidance minister Seyed Mohammad Hosseini confirmed the arrests to the government news agency ISNA yesterday. “They are accused of collaborating with the BBC’s Persian TV station, but I am awaiting more details from the intelligence minister,” he said. The intelligence ministry also confirmed the arrests today.
In a statement yesterday BBC Persian noted that six Iranian filmmakers had been arrested during the weekend for allegedly working illegally for the station but it insisted that none of them was on its staff.
“We deplore this latest attack on human rights,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Iranian government uses all possible means to ban foreign media reporters and block foreign radio and TV broadcasts in Farsi. Satellite TV signals are often jammed. The BBC has on several occasions formally protested about interference from signals broadcast from Iran.
“Many foreign reporters, including those working for Agence France-Presse, the BBC and El País, were unable to extend their visas and had to leave the country. With at least 29 journalists in prison, Iran is one of the world’s leading predators of free expression.”
The documentary broadcast by BBC Persian on 16 September, which included interviews with leading figures now in exile, was about Ayatollah Khamenei and his close associates, his rise to power, his role in the crackdown on reformists and the news media, and the protests that followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disputed reelection in June 2009.
As in many totalitarian countries, expressing opinions about the regime’s top leader is banned in Iran. There was no mention of the BBC documentary in the AFP dispatch from Tehran about the arrests of the filmmakers.
The Iranian media have published only the initials of the detained “collaborators.” For the time being, Reporters Without Borders is not in a position to confirm the identity of those detained or even how many have many have been arrested. According to our information, the number of people arrested is greater than what the authorities have been saying.
While the constitution does not provide for any radio or TV station to operate in Iran outside of the state’s control, no law says journalists cannot work for foreign media or their correspondents. Nonetheless, former culture and Islamic guidance minister Mohammad Hossein Safar-Harandi not only banned the new BBC Persian in December 2008 but also banned Iranian journalists from working for any foreign media.
The intelligence ministry announced on 4 January 2010 that, “Several agents from foreign countries have been arrested with their cameras and video cameras.” The ministry also issued a list of 60 NGOs and media regarded as having incited the population to take part in riots. The list included the BBC, BBC Persian and Voice of America.
A BBC documentary about the dissident Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri was jammed on 20 December 2009 shortly it began being broadcast. It included an exclusive interview that he gave the BBC shortly before his death. It was the first time in more than 20 years that he had appeared on TV.
Arrested on 28 December 2009 for interviewing Montazeri, journalist and human rights activist Emadoldin Baghi was released in June of this year pending trial.
Mazyar Khosravi, the editor of the Hammihannews (http://hammihannews.com/news/9857) news website, was arrested in Tehran on 2 May 2010 on a charge of publishing false information for allegedly posting reports and eye-witness accounts about an attack on the university campus by Basij militiamen on 14 June 2009, two days after President Ahmadinejad’s reelection. Many students were serious injured in the raid and, according to some sources, five were killed. The BBC broadcast video footage of the attack. Released after a month, Khosravi is still awaiting trial.
Reporters Without Borders also condemns the regime’s crackdown on actors and filmmakers. Several filmmakers have been arrested and convicted in the past two years. Some, such as award-winning film director Jafar Panahi, who was given a six-month jail sentence last December, are well known. But less known figures are also being subjected to pressure in Tehran’s Evin prison or have been released but remain under constant surveillance and threat.