We’ll get you. No matter where. And if we don’t get you, then your family, here at home. The Iranian regime is constantly threatening to silence critical journalists. There are hardly any limits within the country. Those who do not stay on the state line will feel the full force of the state, disappear into dungeons and, in the worst case, end up on the gallows. The Iranian security apparatus cannot exercise its power so directly outside its borders. But Tehran’s influence extends to Europe, to London.
The private news channel Iran International announced on Saturday that it would be relocating its studio from Britain to the US capital, Washington, on the advice of London police. The medium and two employees had already become the target of threats of violence over the past few months. But now the London police have informed two British-Iranian reporters that recent threats represent “an acute, credible and significant risk to their lives and that of their families”.
In early February, a police anti-terrorist unit finally arrested a man near Iran International’s studios in a west London business park. According to media reports, it is a 30-year-old Austrian who is suspected of having spied on the area in preparation for an attack. At a first court hearing, he denied all allegations and is to remain in custody until the next hearing.
In response to the heightened threat, the British government summoned Iran’s top diplomat for the second time in a few months on Monday. Secretary of State James Cleverly said they wanted to make it clear that “the Iranian regime’s ongoing threats against journalists living in Britain” were not accepted. The Iranian representative Mehdi Hosseini Matin had already been summoned in November following threats. The police also took special security precautions, for example positioning armored vehicles in front of the Iran International office.
“The regime is very good at covering its tracks.”
15 planned attacks have been prevented in cooperation with the domestic secret service MI5 since the beginning of 2022, according to a statement from the London police’s anti-terror department on Saturday, and security will continue to be ensured. But the work of the British authorities is also met with criticism. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights, accused British officials of giving in to Iran’s leadership. “It is totally unacceptable that the UK should respond to the terrorist threats of Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards by shutting down one of the most important sources of information for Iranians.”
Iran, meanwhile, denies any threats against journalists abroad. The allegations are “insubstantial,” it said on state television, and Iran has also hired the British ambassador. Typical, says Christopher Resch from Reporters Without Borders. Establishing clear links between state actors and threats against foreign reporters, as the British authorities appear to have succeeded in the case of Iran International, is rare. “The regime is very good at covering its tracks.”
It’s usually not that difficult either. Most threats come through social media. Messages like this land in his inbox on Instagram almost every day, told Ahmad Samadi the Süddeutsche Zeitung in January. Samadi has been working as a journalist for Iran International in Berlin since 2020. He has already been threatened with sexualized violence and with a stay in Evin, Iran’s most notorious prison. Faceless accounts that draw up the worst scenarios of violence are the constant threats that the Iranian regime at least tolerates. “Exiles,” says Christopher Resch, “are exposed to constant fire from bots and regime-controlled accounts.”
Iran has a sophisticated censorship and espionage apparatus. The security authorities keep a close eye on who is communicating with whom in the country and, above all, where. They often use regular phone calls or messages abroad as an excuse to arrest suspected opposition figures in Iran for espionage – or to abuse members of unpleasant voices abroad as a means of pressure. Youhanna Najdi, a member of Deutsche Welle’s Farsi editorial team, reported Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in December by suspicious calls from relatives in Iran. They were summoned by the security authorities and urged to lure Najdi into an ambush in Turkey and to stop reporting critically about the regime.
German authorities are also aware of the threats and insults against critics of the Iranian state. German journalists who report extensively and critically about Iran have also often been the target of insults and threats. But no one is aware of a recent case in which Iranian journalists in exile were seriously threatened in this country. Reporters Without Borders does not know of any victims either.
The methods aren’t having any effect anyway, at least not in the way that Tehran would like. Mahmood Enayat, Managing Director of Iran International, left no doubt in his statement about the move to Washington that his editorial team will continue to report critically. “We refuse to be silenced by these cowardly threats. We will continue to broadcast.”