Shock as police tell Iranian broadcaster to leave London as officers 'can't protect them from regime killers' on UK soil

19 February 2023, 11:12 | Updated: 19 February 2023, 11:14

Iran International has had to close its UK operations
Iran International has had to close its UK operations. Picture: Iran International/Getty

By Kit Heren

An Iranian broadcaster that has been forced to move from London to the US because the Met police could no longer protect them from state-backed terrorists has said that the attack on free speech on British soil is "shocking".

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Staff at Iran International, which used to broadcast from Chiswick on West London, were told by Scotland Yard counter-terror chiefs this week that there were "serious" and "grave" concerns about "hostile intentions of foreign states".

The broadcaster, which has about 100 staff members, has since moved operations to Washington DC.

It comes after a man was arrested on Monday in the same area and charged with terrorism offences related to the surveillance of the company's headquarters.

Spokesperson Adam Baillie told LBC's Andrew Castle on Sunday: "The threat to us has been going on for several years, but it's escalated over the last six months, since the unrest began in Iran last September.

Adam Baillie of Iran International talks to Andrew Castle

"But actually before then we've always been under threat... but this. was a hell of a turn-up to actually force us out of our studios. But it didn't stop us working, we just broadcast from DC now".

He added: This is a very shocking thing that could happen on British soil, and the threat to press freedom".

Staff had already faced an "imminent and credible threat to life" in November, and armed police officers showed up to protect them.

Mr Baillie said of the latest news: "Everyone's fine, but shocked... this is something they've lived with for a very long time.

He added that his colleagues' families and friends living in Iran had also subject to "harassment and threat" because of their loved ones working for Iran TV, with some threats of kidnapping...

"Two people, senior journalists working for us, their lives were threatened."

Despite the warning from the police, Mr Baillie said the support his organisation had received from Scotland Yard and the government had been "extraordinary."

Protests have been going on since September
Protests have been going on since September. Picture: Getty

Mahmood Enayat, general manager of Iran International TV, said earlier in a statement: "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.

"Let's be clear, this is not just a threat to our TV station but the British public at large.

"Even more this is an assault on the values of sovereignty, security and free speech that the UK has always held dear. "Day and night our journalists strive to deliver the 85 million people of Iran and its diaspora the independent, uncensored news they deserve.

"We refuse to be silenced by these cowardly threats. We will continue to broadcast. We are undeterred."

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The Met said police and MI5 have foiled 15 plots since the start of 2022 to either kidnap or kill UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the Iranian regime.

The force had ramped up security measures focused on the area surrounding the studios of the Persian-language broadcaster, which included an overt armed policing presence in the vicinity.

Read more: 'Barbaric regime': Britain demands Iran halts execution of ex-government official accused of spying for MI6

Read more: UK sanctions Iran's prosecutor general after execution of British man accused of spying for MI6

But head of counter-terrorism policing (CTP), assistant commissioner Matt Jukes said in a statement: "In light of the ongoing investigation that follows the arrest of a man last weekend in that area, and despite extraordinary security measures, we still have serious concerns for the safety of people working at this company.

"This has led to us giving further advice and the company is now relocating.

"We would like to thank the company for their ongoing understanding with this as we continue to support them."

Iran has been rocked by the biggest wave of social unrest in almost three years
Iran has been rocked by the biggest wave of social unrest in almost three years. Picture: Getty

He added: "We also appreciate that talking to a media company about moving their operations from a particular location, even though it is due to grave safety concerns, is exceptional.

"The advice to relocate has not been given lightly. The situation that journalists face around the world and the fact that some journalists face such hostile intentions of foreign states whilst in the UK is a challenging reality that we are determined to confront."

Iran International has been one of the most prominent sources of news about the recent wave of anti-government protests sweeping the country.

The demonstrations were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last September after she was detained by police in the capital for allegedly not adhering to Iran's Islamic dress code.

ranian demonstrators taking to the streets of the capital Tehran
ranian demonstrators taking to the streets of the capital Tehran. Picture: Getty

The UK Government responded to the broadcaster's move by condemning the "lack of respect for basic rights" demonstrated by the Iranian regime.

A spokesperson said: "Media freedom is a vital part of our society and journalists must be able to investigate and report independently without fear.

"We will not tolerate any threat to media organisations or journalists. We know the Iranian regime has established a pattern of this type of behaviour which is completely unacceptable, yet sadly typical of the regime and its lack of respect for basic rights.

"The police are continuing to work in response to this threat.

"We will continue to use all tools at our disposal to protect individuals in the UK against any threats from the Iranian state."

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