Iranian journalists in UK worry for safety after kidnap plot

EXCLUSIVE: Iranian journalists in the UK fear for safety after US kidnap plot
3 min read
22 July, 2021
A source at Iran International told The New Arab that Iranian journalists working abroad are most commonly targeted through blackmail against their family.
Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad faced a kidnap attempt in the US [Getty]

Iranian journalists in the UK say they are worried about their safety after the attempted kidnapping of an Iranian reporter in the US, where she has citizenship.

The US Justice Department last week announced it had indicted four Iranian citizens connected to the Islamic Republic's intelligence apparatus who are accused of planning to kidnap an opposition journalist in New York.

Masih Alinejad, a staunch opponent of Tehran, was confirmed as the would-be victim by Reuters.

Alinejad tweeted: "The Islamic Republic of Iran wanted to kidnap me to shut me up. But I refuse to shut up."

She vowed to always "relay the voice" of those killed by Iranian security forces during 2019 anti-government protests, as well those on board the Ukrainian Airlines flight a Canadian court determined was purposefully shot down by Tehran.

Now, other Iranian journalists are concerned about their security too.

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The New Arab interviewed a source at the London-based Iran International broadcaster, whose coverage is often critical of the Iranian government.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was critical to put Alinejad's story into context.

"This is part of a long-standing attempt by the Iranian regime to perhaps keep dissidents or activist journalists off the radar.

"This is a major case that has been averted by the diligence of the US security and police, but this is not the first time."

The source mentioned the case of journalist Ruhollah Zam, who in 2019 was abducted by Iran from neighbouring Iraq, according to his wife, who spoke with Iran Wire.

Zam was executed in 2020.

Nevertheless, this latest abduction attempt has had its own individual effect at Iran International, which is taking the issue "very seriously".

The source there said: "I think it is fair to say that, for some [Iran International journalists] it has called their own personal awareness of security into question."

"As a business, we have noticed that some of our staff have been a little more tense, a bit more concerned about this," they added.

They noted that additional precautions are being taken for workers, both on the job and outside it.

However, the source also highlighted that in the UK, security services go to significant lengths to protect against "state-based threats".

They said the Metropolitan Police has an "outreach programme" for Iranians, with whom it keeps in frequent touch.

However, the source stressed that Iranian journalists working abroad, be that for Iran International, BBC Persian or otherwise, are commonly targeted via family inside the Islamic Republic.

"The way that they can attack into the journalists is… mostly… back in Iran where considerable pressure is placed upon families in an attempt to coerce journalists to go to a third-party country to meet."

From there, they can be abducted and taken to Iran.

Despite these threats, the Iran International source said the company will continue to operate and uphold media freedom.