Armed police guard Iranian TV studio in Chiswick Park after death threats to journalists

Image above: Armoured police vehicles are seen outside the headquarters of Iran International on Nov. 19; photograph Iran International

Workers in other buildings reportedly told to work from home on Monday 

A large armed police presence remain deployed outside the Iran International television studios in Chiswick Park, after “severe and credible” death threats were made against two journalists who work there.

Workers at other businesses in Chiswick Park were told on Monday (21 November) to vacate the area when they arrived at work. One employee in building 4, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Chiswick Calendar that all staff at their company were now working from home “until further notice”.

The Metropolitan police confirmed its officers are working in response to potential threats projected from Tehran against “a number of UK-based individuals” and have been at the site since last Thursday. Iran International, which is based in building 11, said they did not request an armed response from the police and believed the Met were there to reassure staff and deter action against them.

Staff at Iran International don’t know how long the armed vehicles will be deployed, but said staff would ‘continue to take precautions as previously advised by our security director.’

Faced with nationwide anti-government protests since mid-September, Iran has accused foreign-based Persian broadcasters such as BBC Persian and Iran International of “fomenting unrest”. Iran International, which has been showing the recent protests in Iran 24/7, has been proscribed as a “terrorist” organisation by the regime, but can still be accessed via the internet.

Image above: Iran International’s studio 

Iran ‘targeting channel because they are editorially independent’

Up to a hundred people work in the building in Chiswick Business Park. Adam Baillie, one of the senior studio producers at Iran International, told The Chiswick Calendar the police presence at the studio has reassured those working in the building that they are safe, but this development represented a marked increase in the Iranian state’s intimidation of news reporters working for the channel.

“No one can go home [to Iran]. They’re journalists and there’s no such thing as a free press, an uncensored press in Iran. They’ve all got friends and family, a lot are British citizens of course, who have always been subject to a level of harassment. But since the protests, really since they began in November 2019, this channel has been targeted by the regime.

“We don’t hold any political positions we’re not aligned to any group of any kind. But we’re independent, we’re editorially independent and we are the main source of uncensored news in Iran. And it’s not just about Iran, it’s Iran-related news from the United Nations in Geneva and New York, from governments. It’s a very wide range of other agencies that we report…

“We have always been subject to a lot of attacks in Iranian official and semi-official media because that’s just parroting the Iranian government lie.”

Reporters are subject to “a massive scale of intimidation” 

The scale of the police deployment to protect a media organisation is unprecedented in recent years. Iran International say this is a sign that UK authorities take the threat to the news outlet seriously.

Adam said the Iranian government have upped the ante recently with their attacks on the channel, in response to their ongoing coverage of the protests in the country.

“We report thes protests 24/7, so the threat level against us has been commensurate with that, as the protest and the unrest continues each week everyone watches Iran International. They try and block us, which you can’t because we’re on seven platforms there are many ways of seeing us so that’s why they’ve done it.

“It’s a massive scale of intimidation, people can’t phone home easily to talk to their cousins, mothers fathers and all that and vice versa, because they record it there… We’ve been designated as terrorist organisation which kind of provides legal cover for the Iranian government to stop bank accounts and all that sort of thing.

“So that’s the kind of thing we’ve been living with for five years… so it’s not out of the blue but it’s an added level of, stress is the wrong word, it’s an added level of burden on [the reporters].”

Image above: a protest in Iran

Journalists not taken to safe-houses, Met tells public to be “alert but not alarmed”

Adam said he believes the police are reviewing their presence daily after assessing the risks but hasn’t been given a timescale for security reasons.

“They don’t share information… they make their own assessments and then they just inform us that they’re there” he said. He also dismissed reports that some of Iran International’s journalists had been taken to safe houses for their own protection, claiming they were “not at all” true.

“If the threats went to an extreme level then they’ve made that contingency and we can just remove [the journalists]. But we haven’t got people in safe houses, no.”

A Met spokesperson said:

“A number of protective security measures have been put in place to mitigate against these threats. While we will not go into detail as to what these are, it does include the presence of overt armed police officers in the vicinity of the west London offices of a UK-based Persian language media company.”

The Met has advised the public to be “alert but not alarmed” and report anything that doesn’t look or feel right to them, by calling 0800 789 321 or call 999 if it is an emergency.

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