The Iranian government’s campaign to stifle free speech and choke off the free flow of information in Iran has intensified in the run-up to legislative elections in March.
According to Human Rights Watch and the BBC, that campaign now includes the intimidation of the family of foreign-based Persian-language journalists to obtain information or silence them.
Human Rights Watch cited the raid by Iranian security forces in mid-January of the Tehran home of a relative of a BBC Persian employee living in London. The relative reportedly was taken to Evin prison, and a man claiming to be the relative’s interrogator called the BBC employee and said the family member would be freed, if the employee provided sources and contacts at the BBC. Authorities detained the relative for at least two weeks, before releasing the individual on bail.
In a press briefing, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland condemned the Iranian regime’s persecution “of journalists, bloggers, and free speech advocates,” and also spoke of the harassment by Iranian authorities of the family of a BBC reporter:
“This is actually quite a horrific story of Iranian authorities going into the apartment of the sister of a London-based BBC correspondent, forcing her to Skype with her sister; and then using the Skype opportunity to try to interrogate this BBC reporter in London. Our concern is that the Iranian regime is putting a further chill on the press environment in advance of their legislative elections. . . . and that they are even trying to reach the arms of the state out to overseas Iranians who work for international press organizations.”
The United States, said Ms. Nuland, calls on Iranian security forces “to cease the harassment of those seeking to exercise their universal rights...We will stand with Iranian journalists and civil society activists in their continuing fight for the ability to express themselves freely.”