LONDON / TEHRAN
Tehran has been intimidating Iranian journalists living in exile through cyber-activists linked to the Islamic republic fabricating news, duplicating Facebook accounts and spreading false allegations of sexual misconduct, the Guardian has reported, citing statements from several journalists.
Sadeq Saba, head of BBC Persian, said the number of incidents and the level of harassment has increased in the last few weeks. “In comparison to previous rounds of harassment, this time the language they are using in Iran
[against family members] was more threatening,” the daily quoted him as saying.
According to Saba, members of journalists’ families have been summoned to the intelligence service headquarters for questioning. One journalist, whose parents were interrogated several times, said they were told he should stop working for the BBC or risk being killed.
Diplomatic relations between Britain and Iran
have deteriorated as tensions mount over Tehran’s nuclear program. Britain downgraded ties with Iran
following a major attack on its embassy in Tehran in November 2011. Iran
has repeatedly jammed the broadcasts of BBC’s Persian-language service and other international broadcasters in recent months and last year Britain’s broadcast regulator revoked the license of state-owned Iranian channel Press TV. It insisted the move was not politically motivated.
The pro-regime activists have set up a number of fake Facebook accounts and blogs, purporting to belong to BBC journalists or their Iranian colleagues, the report said. Web users who want to access the real BBCPersian.com might accidentally visit its counterfeit site at persianbbc.ir, which mirrors the BBC’s site in design and fonts but has completely different content. “Death of Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein: fabricated stories by Washington,” reads the headline of a recent article posted on persianbbc.ir.
Nafiseh Kouhnavard, a presenter on BBC Persian’s talk show “Your Turn,” is another victim of the campaign, the report said. In a fake Facebook account that carries her name and picture, she supposedly confesses to a culture of extramarital relationships among journalists working for the BBC’s Persian service.
“You wrote about my relationships with my colleagues,” she is falsely quoted by a national newspaper in Iran
as saying. “Swinging … is not only limited to me, in fact it is common and normal here.”
The fake reports have been also republished by state-affiliated news organizations, according to the report.
Iranian journalists at Radio Farda, the Persian service of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFERL), and several of their freelance colleagues working for independent media have also been targeted. “Stop writing about Iran
or face the consequence,” writes the Iranian journalist
Golnaz Esfandiari on her RFERL blog, Persian Letters. “That’s the message being sent to Iranian journalists working outside the country along with warnings that their reputations, finances, and families are at risk should they refuse to comply.”