The Foreign Office has summoned the Iranian deputy ambassador over allegations that two London-based journalists have faced death threats from Tehran-backed agents over the reporting of the country’s protests.
The news channel Iran International took precautionary steps to protect its reporters after being informed by the Metropolitan police earlier this week that it believes there were credible threats to the journalists’ lives. The two reporters have not been named nor the precise threats detailed.
The summons came as the EU prepares to impose sanctions on Monday on a further 30 Iranian officials seen as being at the heart of the human rights abuses in the country. But plans to label the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group, canvassed by Germany, are not likely to be taken up.
Explaining the diplomatic summons, the foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said that “the UK will always stand up to threats by foreign nations. We do not tolerate threats to life and intimidation of any kind towards journalists, or any individual living in the UK.”
Iran International, BBC Persian and a third channel, Manoto, have been at the forefront of the reporting of the Iranian protests, often relying on video footage sent from mobile phone cameras. The protests were sparked by the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, but spread into a wider uprising over repression in Iran.
Partly due to the censorship imposed on the Iranian media, external satellite channels are disproportionately watched inside Iran, prompting the Iranian government to resort to internet shutdowns to prevent access to the channels.
In a statement earlier this week, an Iran International spokesperson said: “These are state-sponsored threats to journalists in the UK. It is truly shocking that independent journalists on British soil are receiving credible threats to their lives in an effort to prevent free, uncensored information reaching the people of Iran.
“Britain is the home of free speech. We stand as part of that tradition, proud to serve the 85 million people of Iran with the information they cannot receive at home. The IRGC cannot be allowed to silence a free press in the UK.”
The Metropolitan police formally notified both journalists that these threats represented an imminent, credible and significant risk to their lives and those of their families. Other journalists at the station have also been notified by the police of threats.
Inside Iran, more than 60 journalists have been arrested, according to Amnesty International, with some individuals alleged to have sent videos to UK-based Farsi news channels being described as agents of foreign powers.
The authorities accuse the UK-based channels of pumping out propaganda designed to discredit the regime, and claim they have been exaggerating the scale of the protests and the subsequent repression.
Iranians protested in the south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan on Friday to mark a 30 September crackdown by security forces known as Bloody Friday, as nationwide demonstrations calling for the end of clerical rule persisted.
Amnesty International said security forces unlawfully killed at least 66 people, including children, after firing live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas at protesters in the provincial capital, Zahedan, a flashpoint in the unrest gripping Iran.
The protests are making the chances of a revived nuclear deal much less likely. Iran has agreed to a visit by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this month to start giving the answers the agency and its 35-nation board have long called for on the origin of uranium particles found at three sites, an agency report said.
Diplomats say they expect western powers to push for a resolution calling on Iran to cooperate at next week’s quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors.
Discussions are also under way among western powers on whether the time has come to declare that the talks to revive the nuclear deal are at an end, a position that would then raise questions about how to control Iran’s potential nuclear programme.