The attempted kidnapping of an Iranian-American journalist in New York has raised fresh concerns over the safety of the Iranian press in the UK, particularly those reporting for the BBC Persian service.
The intended target of the kidnapping plot was Masih Alinejad, who reports and campaigns on human rights issues in Iran.
“Everyday Iranian journalists based in this country live in fear that what happened in New York could happen to them,” said the NUJ’s national broadcasting organiser, Paul Siegert.
“That’s on top of the daily harassment and abuse they have to live with.
“Their families are also constantly targeted and used as weapons against them. And all just because they are journalists doing their job. The NUJ will continue its campaigning work until this type of terrible behaviour stops.”
Alinejad has contributed to the US-government funded Voice of American Persian language service. She also runs the My Stealthy Freedom and White Wednesdays campaigns against the mandatory wearing of headscarves for Iranian women.
Four Iranian nationals, alleged to be intelligence operatives, have been charged with the attempted kidnap of Alinejad, Reuters has reported.
They planned “to forcibly take their intended victim to Iran, where the victim’s fate would have been uncertain at best,” according to Audrey Strauss, US attorney for the Southern District of New York.
As well as Alinejad, the suspects also allegedly plotted to lure a person in the UK and three others in Canada to Iran, the BBC has reported.
The attempted kidnap follows the capture and execution of French journalist Ruhollah Zam on sedition charges after he was lured out of France by Iranian officers in 2019.
In the UK, Iranian journalists working for BBC Persian have faced in recent years what lawyers have described as “an unprecedented collective targeting and punishment of journalists”.
BBC Persian television presenter Kasra Naji said the persecution of BBC journalists had “become a matter of life and death”.
Iranian journalists in London have received death threats and their families have also been threatened. In Iran, the authorities brought in the families of 69 BBC staff members for questioning and people have been threatened with arrest, rendition and kidnapping.
The increase in threat to Iranian journalists in the UK has led BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson to draw comparisons between the regime in Iran and the tactics used by the USSR during the Cold War, such as intimidating journalists and exerting pressure on their relatives.
He has said the targeting of BBC Persian staff is “a matter of huge importance not just to the BBC, not even just to journalism but to the international community as a whole”.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Journalists based here in the UK are being harassed simply because of the work they do. Their families in Iran are being weaponised, causing enormous stress and strain for our members at the BBC News Persian and Iran International.
“This outrageous and unacceptable abuse has to stop, and we are calling on the new government in Iran to stop these attacks on journalists and journalism.”
Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville