The BBC World Service has filed an “urgent appeal” to the United Nations (UN) against Iran in light of the online violence towards female journalists working at BBC News Persian.

According to the BBC, women journalists in the Persian service are facing online attacks and harassment every day.

The relentless abuse includes death and rape threats against the women and their families; attacks by Iranian state media and on Iranian website on the women’s credibility as well as defamatory stories including accusations of “sexual indecencies”; and hacking and phishing of their personal information. Material from these hacks, such as emails and photographs, are then used to accompany some of the defamatory stories.

Some of the journalists have also reported family members in Iran being interrogated.

So extreme is the abuse that many of BBC News Persian’s female journalists have removed themselves from social media and other public spaces and have even suffered “significant and serious mental and physical health issues.”

“We absolutely deplore the violent, misogynistic and gendered harassment our women journalists have to face every day,” said Liliane Landor, senior controller of BBC International News and director of World Service. “Trusted and impartial journalism is fundamental to any democracy and it is only by working together that we can ensure the safety of journalists everywhere and ensure women’s voices are included. We have to be able to work unhindered, free from threats and free from abuse.”
International counsel for the BBC World Service, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson, said: “Women journalists at BBC News Persian face abhorrent online violence every day simply because they are doing their job. This is a paradigm case of what UN experts call ‘gendered censorship.’ Misogynist, sexist online abuse and all threats of physical or sexual violence towards journalists  are intended to force women offline and to silence women journalists. It is unacceptable and it must stop.”
“Iran has international obligations of due diligence to take action against those responsible. We call on the UN to condemn the attacks and to ensure Iran meets its international obligations.”

The BBC’s complaint comes a week after Iran released Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager at Thomson Reuters Foundation, after six years of detention. She was imprisoned in 2016 after being convicted of unspecified “national security-related” crimes. Zaghari-Ratcliffe briefly worked for the BBC World Service Trust earlier in her career and there was speculation that may have contributed to her false arrest and imprisonment.