Farsi TV channel in U.K. moving to U.S. after warning of Iranian threat

A Farsi-language satellite TV channel based in the United Kingdom says it’s moving its operations to Washington after British authorities cited threats to the broadcaster’s staff from agents of the Iranian regime.

The move came after U.S. and British authorities accused Iran of trying to target critics and dissidents abroad after a wave of anti-regime protests swept across the country starting in September. 

Iran International television said Saturday it had “reluctantly closed its London studios” due to mounting threats against its journalists and on the advice of London’s Metropolitan Police.

“I cannot believe it has come to this. A foreign state has caused such a significant threat to the British public on British soil that we have to move,” Mahmood Enayat, the station’s general manager, said in a statement from the broadcaster.

“We refuse to be silenced by these cowardly threats,” he said. “We will continue to broadcast. We are undeterred.”

The channel said in November last year that police warned that its reporters were under significant threat from Iranian agents. London’s police force deployed armed officers to guard the broadcaster’s offices in Chiswick Business Park, and tight security measures were introduced at the entrance to the site.

An Austrian man, 30-year-old Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, was arrested on Feb. 11 in west London by counterterrorism police officers and accused of gathering information that could be used to carry out a terror attack. Dovtaev is alleged to have filmed videos of the building where Iran International operates, as well as filming security arrangements on the site.

Dovtaev pleaded not guilty this week at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and will next appear at the Old Bailey, the central criminal court in London, on March 3. 

Iranian journalists in the U.K. who have been critical of the regime in Tehran have been targeted for kidnap and murder by Iranian agents, according to the British government and intelligence services, with the number of plots detected increasing in recent weeks.

Iran plotted to kidnap or kill at least 10 British nationals or U.K.-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime in 2022, Ken McCallum, director general of the British security service known as MI5, said in November.

Last month, U.S. prosecutors charged three members of an Eastern European criminal group with ties to Iran with attempting to assassinate a prominent American journalist and activist critical of the Iranian regime. Soon after the charges were announced, writer and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad revealed that she was the target of the assassination plot.

The attempted assassination occurred after the FBI and federal officials disrupted an Iranian group’s previous attempt to silence Alinejad on U.S. soil, authorities said.

Iran’s intelligence minister has branded Iran International a “terrorist organization.” 

The broadcaster has provided critical coverage of the government’s response to nationwide protests that erupted over the September death of an Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested by the country’s morality police.

Iran has portrayed the broadcaster as a tool of Saudi Arabia, and the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in October warned Saudi Arabia over the channel’s coverage.

“This is our last warning, because you are interfering in our internal affairs through these media,” Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami said.

Iran International describes itself as an independent media outlet. The company that owns the broadcaster, Volant Media, was once majority-owned by a Saudi national.

Iran’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since the 1979 revolution that toppled Iran’s monarchy, the theocratic Iranian regime has had a history of targeting its enemies abroad. Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Iran of carrying out numerous assassinations and attempted killings over the years.

In February 2021, a Belgian court convicted Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat based in Vienna, of organizing a July 2018 plot to bomb the annual convention of an Iranian opposition group near Paris. According to German and Belgian authorities, Assadi was an Iranian intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover.

Iran has denied the charges and rejected accusations of hunting down opponents abroad.

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