BBC complains to UN about Iran targeting its Persian service

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The BBC said Wednesday it filed a complaint to the United Nations over Iran freezing the assets of more than 150 people associated with its Persian service, calling the Islamic Republic’s actions “a deprivation of human rights.”

The British broadcaster described Iran’s actions as part of a “criminal investigation” into its staff, former employees and contributors over allegations of them fomenting a “conspiracy against national security” in Iran and abroad.

Iran’s mission at the UN did not respond to a request for comment. Iranian state media did not immediately report on the complaint.

The BBC first disclosed the asset freezes in August, saying it came from a court at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, which holds dual nationals and political detainees, among other prisoners. That court order stopped those named from selling, buying or inheriting property and assets in the country.

“This is an unprecedented collective punishment of journalists who are simply doing their jobs,” BBC director-general Tony Hall said in a statement. “This is not just a campaign against BBC Persian staff but against fundamental human rights.”

The BBC declined to release a copy of the complaint, which it said went to David Kaye, the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression.

The BBC’s Farsi-language service is barred from operating in Iran, though many Iranians listen to its radio shows and watch its satellite television broadcasts. The BBC says the service reaches some 18 million people weekly who are hungry for news outside of Iran’s state-controlled broadcasters.

BBC staffers have been targeted by Iran’s government in the past, especially by hard-liners within the judiciary and security services.

A former BBC World Service Trust employee named Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a five-year prison sentence over allegations of planning the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government while traveling there with her toddler daughter. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman, now works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency. She’s been threatened recently with charges that could add another 16 years to her prison sentence.