Rishi Sunak urged to act against Iran-linked cultural groups

Prime Minister under pressure to launch in-depth investigation and protect communities from IRGC activities

Police speak to  a woman at a protest outside the Islamic Centre of England in north London after Mahsa Amini's death in Iran. PA
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The UK government has been urged to launch an inquiry into groups posing as charities and cultural centres over their potential links to the Iranian regime.

Labour MPs have voiced concerns about the Iranian activity in the UK and the “stretch and power” of the regime in communities across Britain.

The charity watchdog has since last year been conducting an inquiry into the Islamic Centre of England’s possible connections to Tehran.

The centre in north London was the scene of clashes between protesters sympathetic to demonstrations in their homeland and police securing the property after the death of Mahsa Amini.

‘Limit stretch and power of Iran-linked groups’

Kim Johnson, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, told The National that Rishi Sunak’s government should take “more decisive action” against Iran-linked groups under the influence of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Jeff Smith, Labour MP for Manchester Withington, questioned Tom Tugendhat, security minister at the Home Office, about the issue in the House of Commons on Monday.

Mr Smith noted the Charity Commission’s investigation of the Islamic Centre of England, but said there were “wider concerns about other cultural centres across the UK, including in Manchester, allegedly having links to the regime”.

“Would the government consider a wider investigation into those outposts, those cultural centres, so we get to the bottom of this and get to the truth?” he asked.

UK considers proscribing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

UK considers proscribing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

Mr Tugendhat declined to say whether such a probe was being considered and stressed he would not provide a list on “all of those that are linked to the Khamenei authority”.

But he left the door open for a broad investigation, noting that the Islamic Centre of England was “not the only one that I’m aware of” to have potential links to Mr Khamenei’s authority. The Home Office told The National it was ready to act against any threat. “Protecting the public is our absolute priority," it said. “We work with a range of partners and will continue to use all tools at our disposal to protect individuals in the UK against any threats from the Iranian state.”

Ms Johnson on Tuesday urged the Conservative government to heed the call for an in-depth probe into such groups “to limit their stretch and power and protect communities”.

“In terms of these organisations posing a threat in that way … after what I heard yesterday I would say that the government does need to take more decisive action,” she said.

She also questioned why the Sunak administration continues to resist pressure to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organisation.

“I know there are calls for the [IRGC] to be proscribed. They haven’t done that here and other countries have,” she said.

Iranian threats against UK journalist ‘not new’

MPs from across the political spectrum are speaking out in defence of press freedom after Iran International’s decision to close its newsroom in London.

The Persian language TV station last weekend said it would relocate some journalists to its Washington DC studio due to threats from the Iranian regime.

About 100 staff who worked at the office in Chiswick, west London, had for months been working under police protection.

“The fact that journalists are under pressure is not a recent thing, it dates back to 2019,” Ms Johnson said. “The NUJ [National Union of Journalists] have been calling on the police and the government to take robust action to support everybody.

“It’s a sad situation that Iran International have been forced to leave this country because of credible threats of violence to journalists. All they’re doing is reporting the truth particularly since the death of Mahsa Amini. So many young girls and women have taken to the streets of Iran and put their lives on the line to say enough is enough and are speaking truth to power.”

When The National visited Chiswick on Monday, several businesses expressed concern about the threats made against the channel, saying it has caused office staff to work from home in recent months, caused profits to slump.

Labour MP Ruth Cadbury, who represents the area of Brentford and Isleworth, told The National the issue affecting cafes and restaurants had been raised with her.

Despite the negative knock-on effects the anti-terrorism operation has had on the area, Ms Cadbury praised the authorities for acting quickly.

“I am appalled by the way Iran has threatened journalists and free speech,” she said. “The threats are serious given it is state-sponsored extremism exported around the globe.

“I am grateful that Iran International has continued to broadcast and I hope they can be back in the UK very soon in a secure location.

“But it was absolutely right that the Met Police and the government acted quickly given the potential risk not only to those journalists but to the workers in the business park — my constituents.”

Updated: February 21, 2023, 4:30 PM