DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The BBC filed a complaint Wednesday to the United Nations over Iran freezing the assets of more than 150 people associated with its Persian service, calling the Islamic Republic’s actions “a deprivation of human rights.”
The British broadcaster described Iran’s actions as part of a “criminal investigation” into its staff, former employees and contributors over allegations of them fomenting a “conspiracy against national security” in Iran and abroad. Those swept up in the investigation include Iranian dual nationals from Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Britain and the United States.
Iran’s mission at the U.N. did not respond to a request for comment. Iranian state media did not immediately report on the complaint.
The BBC first disclosed the asset freezes in August, saying it came from a court at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, which holds dual nationals and political detainees, among other prisoners.
The court order stopped those named from selling, buying or inheriting property and assets in the country until Dec. 20, when the outcome of the criminal investigation is to be announced, according to the complaint.
“BBC Persian staff are unable to return to Iran as they risk arrest, interrogation and imprisonment,” the complaint said. “Many BBC Persian staff have been separated from their families for years and, in a number of cases, were unable to see loved ones before they have died.
The BBC’s complaint was sent to David Kaye, the U.N.’s independent investigator on freedom of expression. He told journalists at U.N. headquarters in New York that he had received the BBC’s complaint. “We raised very serious concerns with the government just over the last couple of days,” he said.
“We urge the government of Iran to stop harassing the employees and families of employees of the BBC Persian service as well as other journalists,” he said. “It’s a very, very serious concern to us, in part because it’s reflective of an overall pattern, but also because it’s creating direct harm against individuals who are only trying to do their job, which is a job that is protected by international human rights law.”
The BBC’s Farsi-language service was barred from operating in Iran after its disputed 2009 presidential election. Many Iranians listen to its radio shows and watch its satellite television broadcasts, even as “the Iranian government has repeatedly jammed BBC Persian TV,” according to the complaint. The BBC says the service reaches some 18 million people weekly.
BBC staffers and their families have been targeted by Iran’s government in the past, especially by hard-liners within the judiciary and security services. Others have been the target of “malicious and defamatory fake news stories” in Iranian state media and online harassment, the complaint said.
A former BBC World Service Trust employee named Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a five-year prison sentence over allegations of planning the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government while traveling there with her toddler daughter. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman, now works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency. She’s been threatened recently with charges that could add another 16 years to her prison sentence.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.