During the FCO questions session in parliament yesterday, UK Foreign Secretary responded to a question from Diana Johnson MP, and agreed to take up the BBC Persian Service case when speaking with his counterparts in Iran.
Referencing the joint UN Special Rapporteur statement made after the urgent appeal filed on behalf of the BBC Persian staff by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson in October, Hull North MP Diana Johnson asked:
"The United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression and human rights report that the Iranian regime has undertaken a campaign of harassment, persecution and intimidation against staff of the BBC Persia Service and their families, aimed at preventing [them] doing their job. Can the Foreign Secretary say what representations he's made to the Iranians about this?"
Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, said:
"We have made repeated representations to the Iranians about human rights concerns, but I will certainly be happy to take up the issues she raises in person in the course of my visit to, my projected visit to Iran in the next few weeks."
As was made clear in the urgent appeal, BBC Persian staff and their families have suffered growing persecution since BBC Persian TV was launched in 2009. It is clear this persecution is directed at them because of their work and affiliation with the BBC. The most recent measures include a criminal investigation alleging that BBC journalists are undermining Iran’s national security and an asset freezing injunction preventing 152 current and former BBC Persian staff from buying, selling or inheriting property.
In response to the urgent appeal, the UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye and Asma Jahangir issued a joint statement in October raising their concern:
“The Iranian authorities appear to regard any affiliation with the BBC as a crime. We are concerned at recent reports that the action has now escalated to direct targeting of family members of BBC Persian staff. The measures are clearly aimed at targeting the BBC and at preventing journalists from continuing their legitimate work with BBC Persian. We urge the Iranian authorities to cease all legal action against BBC Persian staff and their families, and to cease the use of repressive legislation against independent journalism, whether affiliated to BBC or not.”
The Foreign Secretary’s statement in Parliament is the first time the UK government has publicly committed to taking diplomatic action on behalf of BBC Persian staff, many of whom are dual nationals of the UK.