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BBC accuses Iran of a 'campaign of intimidation' against Persian service staff

Human Rights Watch says arrests, threats and surveillance of BBC staff are part of a wider campaign against journalists working in Iran.

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An Iranian hardline student holds a sign opposed to the BBC during a demonstration in August outside the British Embassy in Tehran to protest against what students called the 'savage' crackdown by British police on rioters in London. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

The BBC today accused Iranian authorities of a campaign of treats and intimidation against the broadcasters’ staff by arresting relatives, slandering staff members and placing them under surveillance, according to The Asssociated Press.

BBC Director-General Mark Thompson was quoted as saying Tehran had engaged in “bullying and harassment” and that this had worsened in recent months, according to The AP.

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In a blog post, Thompson said that the sister of a Persian service staff member had been detained last week and held in solitary confinement at Evin Prison on unspecified charges but had since been released on bail.

“In recent months a number of relatives of members of BBC Persian staff have been detained for short periods of time by the Iranian authorities and urged to get their relatives in London to either stop working for the BBC, or to 'co-operate' with Iranian intelligence officials,” Thompson wrote.

“In other instances, passports of family members have been confiscated, preventing them from leaving Iran. This has left many BBC Persian staff too afraid to return to the country, even to visit sick or elderly relatives. Some have had their Facebook and email accounts hacked.”

On it’s Web site, the BBC reported that Iranian authorities have in turn accused the broadcasting corporation of fomenting unrest during the 2009 protests against the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, widely seen as fraudulent inside and outside Iran.

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Citing Human Rights Watch, the BBC said that a man claiming to be the interrogator of the staff member's sister had called the staff member in London, offering to release the woman in exchange for private information about the broadcaster.

Britain has downgraded relations with Iran since an November attack on its embassy in Tehran.

The AP quoted Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director, as saying that "[d]etaining a BBC reporter's relative seems to be part of a wider campaign to harass Iranian journalists by putting pressure on them and their families."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/120203/bbc-accuses-iran-campaign-intimidation-against-persian-serv