Iran summons several people over alleged BBC ties

AP News
Posted: Sep 25, 2011 9:35 AM
Iran summons several people over alleged BBC ties

Iranian authorities have summoned an unspecified number of people for questioning over their alleged links to BBC's Farsi-language service, the country's intelligence chief said Sunday.

The summons followed the arrest this month in Iran of six independent filmmakers for allegedly providing the British Broadcasting Corp. with video and news reports perceived as damaging to Iran.

The BBC said its Farsi channel had bought rights to the filmmakers' films in the past but had not commissioned their work. Neither Iran nor the BBC have identified the filmmakers by name.

The intelligence chief, Heidar Moslehi, also accused the BBC of operating as a cover for British intelligence and of seeking to harm Iran by hosting Iranian dissidents. He made the remarks to Iranian state TV.

The timing of the filmmakers' arrests was never made clear, although it appeared to follow an earlier broadcast by the BBC Persian service of a documentary on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran.

Iranian opposition websites have said the filmmakers include Nasser Saffarian, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Hadi Afarideh, Mohsen Shahrnaz, Mehrdad Zahedian and Katayoun Shahabi.

"The British intelligence services have begun a new phase of anti-Iranian activities under the cover of the BBC," Moslehi said.

He also issued a veiled warning of more arrests in the case.

"This is the beginning of our activities in this issue," he said. "We will strongly carry out our obligations in this matter whenever necessary."

Moslehi also lashed out at the BBC for sympathizing with Iranian opposition groups that he claimed are "dedicated to harm the Islamic Republic."

Iran has gone to great lengths to jam broadcasts and block websites of foreign-based Farsi-language media, including BBC Persian and Voice of America.

Tehran has accused the BBC, along with the British government, of fomenting the mass protests that broke out after Iran's disputed presidential election in 2009. Both deny the accusation. The BBC's Farsi service has no office in Tehran.

Also Sunday, a senior Iranian judiciary official warned that those found working for the BBC will be treated as people intended on undermining Iran's Islamic establishment.

"By launching satellite channels, the enemies seek to harm the (ruling) system," Deputy Head of Judiciary Ebrahim Raisi told the semi-official Mehr news agency. "These channels receive their information from intelligence and spy agencies ... those who work for these channels ... will be investigated."

The BBC has described the filmmakers' arrests as an attempt to pressure the international broadcaster.

Iran clamped down hard on media outlets in the wake of the 2009 election, arresting a slew of journalists, bloggers and others.