BBC leads UN Appeal to stop Iran harassing journalists

BBC Persian service presenter Fardad Farahzad gets ready to present the news, at the corporation's London headquarters. The BBC said its journalists will appeal for the first time directly to the UN over what the British broadcaster describes as the "persecution and harassment" of those affiliated with its Persian service by Iran. (AP)
Updated 13 March 2018

BBC leads UN Appeal to stop Iran harassing journalists

LONDON: The BBC has appealed to the UN to stop Iran harassing its Persian-service journalists in London and their families based in Iran, in a move that reflects the rising level of intimidation reporters based outside of the country are facing, according to human rights lawyers and media organizations.
“This is not just about the BBC — we are not the only media organization to have been harassed or forced to compromise when dealing with Iran. In truth, this story is much wider: It is a story about fundamental human rights,” said Tony Hall, BBC director-general, in a statement.
Over the past nine years, 20 families of BBC Persian staff have received death threats while 86 family members have been summoned for questioning by the Iranian intelligence ministry, according to the broadcaster.
BBC Persian staff have spoken about their personal experiences of harassment in a video compiled by the BBC, which includes a journalist who said her parents had their passports confiscated, preventing them from visiting her in the UK, while another said she was not able to return to Iran to see her dying father.
The mother of a reporter living in Iran was warned by the country’s authorities that her son could be killed in a car accident in London if he continued to work for the BBC.
Jennifer Robinson, human rights lawyer at the UK-based Doughty Street Chambers, told Arab News that it was not only BBC journalists affected by Iran’s clampdown.
“Iran has been conducting a coordinated campaign of persecution and harassment against foreign based Iranian journalists — not just the BBC,” she said.
“Similar issues have been reported by Deutsche Welle, but the BBC is the very worst example of it.
“The BBC has an audience of 12 million in Iran because it provides high-quality journalism and there is widespread censorship in the Iranian media.
“By providing impartial and independent coverage of events inside and outside of Iran in Farsi, BBC Persian is perceived as a threat to the Iranian authorities,” she said.
Robinson, alongside fellow barrister, Caoilfhionn Gallagher, represented the BBC World Service when it filed an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye, and the late Asma Jahangir in October last year. Jahangir died in February.
Jahangir’s report on human rights in Iran was discussed at the 37th session of the Human Rights Council held in Geneva on March 12.
The BBC, along with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), are organizing a series of events at the UN this week to further highlight the repressive tactics of the Iranian authorities.
“It is the gravest example of an increasing attempt to silence international media reporting on Iran. It is the collective punishment of dozens of journalists and their families,” said Jeremy Dear, deputy general secretary at the IFJ.
“The French government have raised concerns about their media, the German public service broadcaster Deutsche Welle has raised concerns and press freedom groups have documented cases of more than 50 other journalists who have faced similar harassment,” he said.
Robinson added: “As Reporters Without Borders have reported, this is a clear attempt to censor reporting outside of Iran, extending Iran’s persecution across borders into countries where free speech is respected.”
Iran’s harassment of foreign-based journalists escalated last year, when the Iranian authorities began a criminal investigation into BBC journalists, alleging that the work of the Persian Service reporters was a crime against the country’s national security.
Iran froze the assets of 152 named individuals, mainly current and former BBC Persian staff, which prevented both reporters and their families buying or selling property in Iran.
The UK government called for Iran “to drop the criminal charges against BBC Persian staff and cease harassment of all journalists and their families with immediate effect,” in a statement delivered in Geneva on Monday.
Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary of the High Council for Human Rights of Iran, told the UN council that he objected to the method of collecting and assessing the allegations contained in the Jahangir report on Iran.
“It is the same trend we saw in Iran in past elections, with authorities focusing on targeting dual-nationals, Internet users, and politicized trials against journalists in an effort to limit access to independent information and commentary,” said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).


Arab News panel of experts see Trump-Biden debate as partisan tie

Updated 23 October 2020

Arab News panel of experts see Trump-Biden debate as partisan tie

  • Conservative and liberal commentators praise calmer, more substantive debate
  • Biden hit by accusations over son while Trump suffered on COVID-19 handling, panelists say

CHICAGO: A panel of political pundits and consultants were split along party lines in deciding who won Thursday’s debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Guests on Arab News’s special post debate analysis program, which streamed live on the newspaper’s Facebook page, included conservative and liberal commentators.

Republican media advisor and congressional campaign consultant Jeff Davis said Trump won the debate by handling himself better than he did in the first debate.

“It’s the tale of two debates,” Davis, who is president of Victory Media in Illinois, said. “In the first debate I believe Biden was much stronger, mostly because of Trump’s interrupting and his criticism that was well heeled.”

“But I think tonight he was substantive, on point and well mannered. And when it mattered most, he scored points for himself … whereas three weeks ago he was not on point, well-mannered or substantive. He did those three things tonight and for that reason Trump was the winner.”

Democrat Ed Gabriel, a spokesman with Arabs for Biden, argued Biden hit Trump hard on several key issues from his mishandling of immigration to the coronavirus pandemic.

“America won tonight because it was a civil conversation,” Gabriel, who previously served as the US ambassador to Morocco, said. “Neither party, neither candidate can walk away saying they won.

“I think it was pretty much playing to their base and they protected their base. In that sense I think it was better for Biden because Trump needed a knock-out.”

Dalia Al-Aqidi, a conservative writer and former congressional candidate in Minnesota, said Trump hit Biden hard on several key issues including on his son Hunter’s involvement in controversies tied to the Ukraine and Russia. Al-Aqidi said for that reason Trump and the American people won.

“I think we all won this evening. We had a great debate. We got to hear more from both candidates,” Al-Aqidi said.

Trump was “cool, calm and collected” and did what the media failed to do, she added.

“President Trump today did what all of the majority of mainstream media didn’t do, to question Joe Biden on Hunter’s emails and his involvement with the Ukraine and China, which was very important.

“Sadly, Biden did not answer it and he went to the (Trump) tax return. This was a great point and I truly believe Trump won tonight and we all won tonight.”

Gabriel responded that Biden strongly denied accusations about favoritism for his son Hunter while he was vice president. He argued Trump was vulnerable over the issue that surfaced this past week about hundreds of immigrant children being left alone in cages at the nation’s border when their parents were turned away by immigration and border control officers.

“It was a good debate in the sense that the American people got to hear both candidates present their policies,” Gabriel said.

“I really believe that Trump has probably solidified his base. He has never been much above 46 percent. I don’t know if you are going to see that rise after this debate. What had to happen tonight, in my opinion, was a knock-out for Trump. For me, I saw it as a draw.”

Davis said voters will compare the calmer, more issue focused second debate to the turbulent first debate, which will score more points for the president’s re-election.

“As far as overall, two weeks ago everyone complained about the interrupting and the fighting,” Davis said. “I think everyone was looking toward the president to turn up the heat tonight, but I can say tonight he was presidential. He was calm for the most part. He listened. He let Joe speak.

“I think there were some very key spots in this debate. While the hot topic was Hunter Biden this week, I actually think there were two messages that will definitely be race changing in this race and both of them are going to hurt Joe Biden. One, he never answered who built the cages. You are going to see all the pictures of the cages. It was a simple question. He didn’t answer it. He avoided it.”

Davis referred to the issue of Biden’s son Hunter, which came up towards the end of the 90 minute debate that was held at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. Hunter Biden was accused of taking contracts in Ukraine and China while his father served as vice president in President Barack Obama’s administration.

But Davis said Trump hit an issue with Biden that could influence voters in Pennsylvania, one of the key Battleground states which could be in contention.

“At the very end, Joe Biden basically said he was going to shut down the oil industry and he was going to move away from subsidies and away from the oil industry and that will hurt badly in Pennsylvania,” Davis said 

“In the end it is going to come down to the targeted (battleground) states and that will play a role in the Pennsylvania race in the last two weeks. Given that scenario I believe the president won tonight.”

Gabriel said the American people also benefited from a debate that focused more on the issues rather than on personalities or contention between the two candidates that dominated the first debate.

“On the oil industry, depending how they play this in the coming weeks, it will be taken out of context as you remember Biden said it would be a transition … he’s clear on fracking and that’s most important to the people of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Gabriel said Biden did answer the Hunter Biden charge. “He did. He called it malarkey.”

The debate focused on several key issues beginning with the handling of the coronavirus, which Al-Aqidi admitted could hurt Trump.

“I think COVID will hurt Trump over and over and over again. He stated exactly what he has done,” Al-Aqidi acknowledged.

But she defended the president’s handling of the economy, which has been hampered by the pandemic. 

The panel discussion was co-moderated by Arab News UN Correspondent Ephrem Kossaify and Special Correspondent Ray Hanania, host of “The Ray Hanania Show” which is sponsored by Arab News and broadcast on WNZK am 690 radio and the US Arab Radio Network every Wednesday morning.

The panel debate can be viewed on the Arab News Facebook page at Facebook.com/TheArabNews.