‘Iran `detaining` relatives of journalists’

Last Updated: Saturday, February 4, 2012 - 00:10

London: The Iranian government has arrested
relatives of Persian-language journalists working abroad for
the BBC in a bid to silence them, the British broadcaster said on Friday.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson said the sister of a
BBC Persian journalist was arrested last week and held in
solitary confinement on unspecified charges at Evin Prison in
Tehran, before being released on bail.

"Her treatment was utterly deplorable and we condemn it in
the strongest terms," Thompson wrote in a blog, adding that it
was only the latest incident "in a campaign of bullying and
harassment by the Iranian authorities".

Human Rights Watch also raised concerns about the arrest,
with its Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson warning it
was "part of a wider campaign to harass Iranian journalists by
putting pressure on them and their families".

She said Tehran was sending a clear message "that the
government`s long arm of repression can extend well beyond
borders."

It is not the first time the BBC has complained about
Iranian harassment of its journalists but Thompson said the
past few months had seen "increased levels of intimidation
alongside disturbing new tactics".

"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 `cooperate`
with Iranian intelligence officials," he said.

Relatives` passports had been confiscated, preventing them
leaving Iran, while BBC staff had been accused in the Iranian
media of offences such as sexual assault, drug trafficking and
converting from Islam to Christianity.

Thompson called on Tehran to repudiate the actions of its
officials and urged governments and international bodies to
help stop "this campaign of intimidation, persistent
censorship and a disturbing abuse of power".

"It is behaviour that all people who believe in free and
independent media should be deeply concerned about," the BBC
chief said.

BBC Persian, based in London, is a multimedia news and
information service for Persian speakers in Iran, Afghanistan,
Tajikistan and around the world.

Iran has frequently accused the BBC of fuelling the unrest
that broke out following the disputed re-election of President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

PTI



First Published: Saturday, February 4, 2012 - 00:10

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