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Human rights experts highlight threats to journalists covering Iran

A crowd of journalists. (file)
UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti
A crowd of journalists. (file)

Human rights experts highlight threats to journalists covering Iran

Human Rights

UN independent human rights experts on Thursday condemned violence, threats and intimidation against Persian language journalists for their critical reporting on Iran.

The experts highlighted recent incidents targeting the Persian language news service Iran International, its journalists and staff and its owner, Volant Media UK Limited. Death threats and intimidation against the staff escalated into the stabbing of journalist Pouria Zeraati outside his home in London on 29 March.

Since 2017, Iran International has faced ongoing threats and harassment from Iranian authorities and their proxies, which intensified following the 2022 “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests in Iran. Persian media abroad were falsely accused of inciting unrest, exacerbating the abuse.

“Such attacks not only violate the human rights to life and personal security, but are also aimed at suppressing freedom of expression and the media, including legitimate criticism of the Iranian Government,” they said.

Attempted killings

According to the experts, there have been at least 15 credible Iranian plots to kill or kidnap individuals in the United Kingdom since 2022.

British counter-terrorism police warned two Iran International personnel, including Volant’s General Manager Mahmoud Enayat, of “imminent threats to their lives” in November 2022, prompting them to flee the UK.

Additionally, a plot to kill two television presenters, including Fardad Farahzad, was thwarted in November 2023.

Chilling effect on the press

The experts warned that these attacks and threats could have a chilling effect on journalists both inside and outside Iran.

They cited a September 2023 incident in New York where Iran International journalist Kian Amani was assaulted by a member of Iran’s delegation to the United Nations.

Iran imposed travel and financial sanctions on Volant Media and Iran International in 2022 for supposedly supporting terrorism and in 2019, froze the assets of the owners and their family members in Iran.

“We deplore the blatant misuse of counter-terrorism law against journalists, which violates freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, the right to travel, privacy, family rights, the right to reputation and due process and judicial safeguards,” the experts said.

Pattern of attacks

The experts noted that the incidents against Iran International were part of a pattern of threats and attacks against Persian language media and dissidents outside Iran, including journalists working for BBC News Persian, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, IranWire and Radio Farda.

“We urge Iran to refrain from violence, threats and intimidation against Iran International and its staff, online and offline, and other journalists and media workers reporting on Iran from abroad and to investigate and prosecute those responsible for such acts,” they said.

The experts raising the alarm included the Special Rapporteurs on the human rights situation in Iran, on rights protection while countering terrorism, on freedom of opinion and expression, on peaceful association and assembly, and on extrajudicial executions.

Appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteurs are mandated to monitor and report on specific human rights sectors and country situation. They are not UN staff and do not draw a salary for their work.