I will speak specifically and in a little more detail on behalf of the BBC Persian journalists and their families who have been targeted for harassment by the Iranian authorities, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale, whom I congratulate on bringing this debate.
The BBC World Service states that the Iranian authorities have systematically targeted BBC Persian journalists who are mainly based in London and their families in Iran since the service launched satellite television in 2009. However, recent measures have escalated that persecution and the World Service has serious concerns for the safety and wellbeing of the journalists and their families. I commend the bravery of those journalists and of their families who support them.
In 2017, the Iranian authorities commenced a criminal investigation into journalists working for the service in London, alleging that their work was a crime against Iran’s national security. That was accompanied by an asset-freezing injunction preventing 152 named individuals, comprising mainly current and former BBC Persian staff, from buying or selling property inside Iran, as we have heard.
Other measures against the journalists and their families have included arbitrary arrests, interrogation and detention of family members in Iran, confiscation of passports and travel bans on family members leaving Iran to prevent them from seeing their relatives who work for the BBC Persian service, ongoing surveillance and harassment, and the spread of fake and defamatory news stories designed to undermine the reputation of those staff and their families, for example by accusing them of prostitution or infidelity, much of which is targeted at the female journalists.
Since August 2018 there have been targeted attacks on several journalists in Iran’s state press, using inflammatory language and providing names and photographs of the journalists. Before I give an example, I ask the Minister if he will once again raise these concerns with the Iranian authorities. Time precludes me from going into the full details in my speech, which have come to me this week directly from the World Service, but if I may I will provide the full text to the Minister.
To give a recent example, in August 2018, on Iran’s national day for journalists, comments were made about BBC Persian through the Mizan news agency, which is affiliated to the Iranian judiciary, describing BBC Persian staff as a “mafia gang” who
“must be held answerable for their actions against the Iranian people”,
“will surely be exposed one day before the Iranian nation, and God’s hand of justice will manifest itself through the arms of the Iranian people, and they will be punished for their actions.”
Those who follow Iranian politics will know that language is ominous—it has been used in the past with regard to extrajudicial killings. BBC World Service staff are extremely concerned that the statements represent a significant recent escalation of the threats made against named BBC Persian colleagues.