Iranian TV channel halts London broadcasts after threats

The station has been giving extensive coverage to anti-regime demonstrations that erupted in Iran five months ago

By AFP

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Iranian film director Sepideh Farsi Press (2ndL) and German actress Jasmin Tabatabai (C) among others attend a protest in solidarity with protesters in Iran on the red carpet at Berlin Film Festival the Berlinale on Saturday in Berlin. — AFP
Iranian film director Sepideh Farsi Press (2ndL) and German actress Jasmin Tabatabai (C) among others attend a protest in solidarity with protesters in Iran on the red carpet at Berlin Film Festival the Berlinale on Saturday in Berlin. — AFP

Published: Sat 18 Feb 2023, 9:45 PM

The private network Iran International TV said on Saturday that it had been forced on UK police advice to shut down its London studios, blaming a surge in threats from the protest-hit regime in Iran.

The station has been giving extensive coverage to anti-regime demonstrations that erupted in Iran five months ago, and says two of its senior journalists received death threats in response to their reporting.

London's Metropolitan police force said that working with the MI5 spy agency, since the start of 2022, it had foiled 15 plots "to either kidnap or even kill" people seen as "enemies of the (Iranian) regime".

In November, the Met installed concrete barriers outside the studios in Chiswick, west London, to prevent any attack by vehicle.

The studios are located in a business park that also hosts several foreign multinationals, housing thousands of staff in total.

The Persian-language network's general manager, Mahmood Enayat, said the threats had become overwhelming following the arrest of a man outside the studios a week ago.

"I cannot believe it has come to this," he said, adding that 24-hour broadcasts were continuing from the station's offices in Washington.

"A foreign state has caused such a significant threat to the British public on British soil that we have to move," Enayat said. "Let's be clear, this is not just a threat to our TV station but the British public at large.

"Even more, this is an assault on the values of sovereignty, security and free speech that the UK has always held dear," he said.

The decision was taken late Friday, the station said, following the arrest last Saturday of Austrian national Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, 30.

He was charged on Monday "with collecting information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism", police said.

The station said Dovtaev had been photographing and filming the exterior of the studios.

On Saturday, the Met police said that despite Dovtaev's arrest, "we still have serious concerns for the safety of people working at this company".

"This has led to us giving further advice and the company is now relocating," it said, adding that its advice was "exceptional" and not "given lightly".

Iran International TV employs around 100 journalists in London, who will all continue working from home in reporting and production, company spokesman Adam Baillie said.

A similar number work for the station in Washington, serving a global audience of 30-40 million Farsi speakers, Baillie said, denying regime claims that it is in league with exiled Iranian opposition groups.

The TV station had no complaints about the police response in London, Baillie added.

"They took the whole thing extremely seriously, with seven armed response teams on site at one point," he told AFP. "But the Met clearly have to be concerned about thousands of other people working in the area."

The TV station's relocation is likely to stoke calls in the UK parliament for the government to get tougher with Iran, even as London and its Western allies try to coax Tehran back to an agreement on limiting its nuclear programme, which was scuppered in 2018 by former US president Donald Trump.

British MPs voted last month in favour of adding Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to a list of banned terrorist organisations.

Then, perennially tense ties between London and Tehran came under new strain when the regime executed dual British national Alireza Akbari, accusing him of spying for the UK.

"We will not tolerate any threat to media organisations or journalists," a government spokesperson said Saturday.

"We know the Iranian regime has established a pattern of this type of behaviour which is completely unacceptable, yet sadly typical of the regime and its lack of respect for basic rights," the spokesperson said.


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