CHRI – Campaign of Intimidation Against Families of Journalists Intensifies in Wake of Protests
Intelligence Agents Tell Families Reporters Will Be “Hurt” If They Do Not Stop Their Work
Iranian intelligence agents have been issuing direct threats to the families of journalists working abroad, warning the family members that the journalists will be hurt if they continue their reporting for foreign news agencies.
While harassing the family members of foreign-based journalists has been a longstanding practice, the threats have grown in intensity in recent days as the authorities in Iran strive to limit negative news coverage of the violent state crackdown of the recent protests in Iran.
Protests that erupted on November 15 in the country over a sudden gas price hike were followed by a brutal state response in which over a hundred have been killed and at least 4,000 arrested. The numbers may well be significantly higher as the government-imposed news blackout and November 16-Novemebr 23 internet shutdown in Iran prevented reports from leaving the country.
While the authorities have been able to control domestic coverage of the unrest through state dictates to the media and arrests, control over Iranian journalists working abroad has been more difficult, leading authorities to go after the families of these journalists with blatant warnings and threats.
Saman Rasoulpour, a senior editor at the London-based Iran International satellite TV station, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on November 26 that several of his family members in Iran had been warned that he could be “hurt” if he continued working there.
“In Tehran and other cities, my relatives and associates, as well as those of my colleagues, including parents, sisters and brothers, have been summoned to the Intelligence Ministry. Some of them were taken from the street or at their work place to security offices,” Rasoulpour said.
“The security officials conveyed direct threats to the family members and demanded that we end our collaboration with Iran International immediately. They explicitly warned that if we continued our work, they had the ability to hurt us. They said they knew where we lived outside Iran. We consider these to be blatant threats by Iran’s security agencies against journalists who are simply carrying out their professional duty to provide accurate and unbiased news.”
On November 22, 2019, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported that at least six Iranian reporters based abroad had received threats from the Islamic Republic. Rasoulpour, however, said many more than six of his colleagues at Iran International alone had been threatened.
Pouya Azizi, an Iran International reporter tweeted on November 24: “The Islamic Republic’s Intelligence Ministry summoned my father and made threats against me to stop my professional activities. This is not the first time they did it. They know it will only make us more determined to continue our work.”
Meanwhile, Farnaz Ghazizadeh, a reporter for the BBC’s Persian-language TV station, also revealed that her family in Iran had been subjected to intimidation.
“The Islamic Republic is continuing its attempts to intimidate and censor journalists beyond the borders of Iran by putting pressure on their families. They have summoned my 73-year-old father and warned him about me and my sister (Iran International reporter Sanaz Ghazizadeh). Our families have become hostages,” she tweeted on November 23.
Another BBC reporter, Ali Hamedani, tweeted a comment addressed to Iran’s security agents: “…when you were shaking the body of my dear relative, did you ever think it was worth it? … Stop this. If you stop, it won’t become news and then the media won’t report the bad things you did and this wheel will stop turning.”
Rasoulpour told CHRI, “These pressures didn’t start with the recent protests. There have been similar pressures in the past but in the past 10 days they have intensified. The Islamic Republic is trying to disrupt the work of media outlets abroad just as it has imposed widespread censorship inside the country by cutting off the internet and detaining and jailing journalists.
“The disruptions include jamming broadcast signals and blocking communication between us and our audiences as well as putting psychological pressures on our families and threatening out relatives in Iran. That’s because the regime is afraid of news reaching the people. It wants to put a lid on the news which we put together for our audiences with professional care.”
Asked whether any steps had been taken to counter the threats, Rasoulpour said Iran International had appealed to international organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union to call on the authorities in Iran to immediately end its campaign of intimidation.