The BBC has criticised Iran for imposing an asset freeze on staff at its London-based Persian-service, the latest crackdown against the corporation’s Iranian employees.

Tehran’s judicial authorities have issued a court order listing more than 150 BBC Persian journalists and former contributors, preventing them from conducting financial transactions or selling properties in their homeland because of their affiliation with the British media organisation.

BBC Persian is banned in Iran but its radio shows and TV channel are still popular with an audience hungry for news not reported by the state-run channels. They are watched by millions of Iranians via illegal satellite dishes on residential rooftops. The broadcaster says it has an audience of 13 million in Iran, making it BBC News’ seventh-biggest market worldwide.

Its Iranian staff, who have been victims of a campaign of intimidation and smears in recent years, are unable to return to Iran for fear of reprisal, and most – if not all – BBC Persian staff cannot visit their families back home.

“We deplore what appears to be a targeted attack on BBC Persian staff, former staff, and some contributors. It is appalling that anyone should suffer legal or financial consequences because of their association with the BBC,” said Francesca Unsworth, director of the BBC World Service.

“We call upon the Iranian authorities to reverse this order urgently and allow BBC staff and former staff to enjoy the same financial rights as their fellow citizens.”

The latest crackdown is a sign that the authorities are renewing pressure on the corporation, and stepping up a wider crackdown on journalists after the re-election of Hassan Rouhani as president.

Iran is “one of the world’s five biggest prisons for journalists”, according to Reporters Without Borders. At least 10 journalists and 17 citizen-journalists are incarcerated. It emerged on Sunday that Sasan Aghaei, an Iranian journalist with the reformist Etemaad newspaper, had been arrested.

About 140 employees work for BBC Persian from outside Iran, but authorities have maintained a campaign of harassment against them by summoning their family members who live in the country. A number of staff have also been victims of false allegations of sexual misconduct, duplicated Facebook accounts, fake blogs and online identity theft designed to discredit them.

The Guardian understands that at least one BBC Persian employee has been prevented from leaving Iran after visiting her home country. The UK has refused to grant visas to a number of family members to visit the journalists in the UK.

Britain, often dubbed by Iranian hardliners “the old fox”, has a special place in Iranian official demonology. They consider BBC Persian as a subversive arm of Britain Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, aimed at fomenting regime change in Iran.

Historical suspicions dates back to the 1941 Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran and later to the still unacknowledged MI6-engineered coup against the country’s first democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, who had dared to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian oil company.

BBC News said on its website that the latest ruling against BBC Persian staff was issued by Shahid Moghadas courthouse, which is based in Tehran’s Evin prison. “The BBC was not notified of the court order, and only learned about the asset freeze when a relative of a BBC Persian employee tried to sell a property on their behalf,” said a news article carried by the BBC.

The imprisonment of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been sentenced to five years in jail, may also be connected to Iran’s hostile view of the BBC. Her husband, who has condemned the criminal charges as “a self-serving fabrication”, has indicated that her imprisonment might be connected to her previous work at the BBC in London.

Source » theguardian