The BBC has sent a new complaint about Iran to the United Nations after women journalists allegedly received death threats and were targeted with smears about their private lives.
Women working for the BBC’s Persian service reported a series of incidents of online harassment including one presenter whose picture was digitally manipulated to appear on a pornographic image that was sent to her 14-year-old son in London.
Other harassment included a fake story about a presenter being raped by a colleague and an invented blog in the name of another presenter giving salacious details of her love life in London that was picked up by an Iranian newspaper. Some women staff members had been threatened online with rape, it said.
“We absolutely deplore the violent, misogynistic and gendered harassment our women journalists have to face every day,” said Liliane Landor, senior controller of BBC International News.
The British broadcaster said that its staff had removed their profiles from social media and suffered significant mental trauma as a result of the harassment.
The BBC said the attacks had featured in state media and included false stories about their private lives, their relationships with contributors and criticisms of their clothing, as part of attempts to discredit the women.
Personal information had been retrieved by hacking or phishing — whereby someone is tricked into divulging personal data — which later appeared online and was used during the interrogation of family members in Iran, the BBC said.
The appeal to the UN calls on Iran to prosecute those responsible for the online threats. Lawyers for the corporation said Iran had international obligations to take action against them.
Paul Siegert, of the National Union of Journalists, said more had to be done to tackle the “appalling online abuse”.
“Iran must do more to stop and prosecute the people responsible. It’s truly chilling when you hear about some of the threats that women journalists are exposed to on a regular basis,” he said.
The complaint is just the latest made to the UN by the BBC since 2017 following intimidation and harassment that dates back to the start of BBC News Persian TV in 2009.
Tehran has frozen the assets of BBC staff in Iran and its London-based staff cannot return because of the risk of arrest and prosecution. BBC's Persian service has no staff in Iran.