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Farsi-language TV channel in U.K. moving to U.S. after warnings of potential threat from Iranian agents

The move comes as Western governments warn of the Iranian regime’s alleged plots to target critics and dissidents abroad.
Demonstrators gather in London to show solidarity with Iranian protesters
Demonstrators protest in London on Feb. 11 over the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Iranian Mahsa Amini.Rasid Necati Aslim / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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.”

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Monday said he was “appalled by the Iranian regime’s continuing threats to the lives of U.K.-based journalists” and ordered officials to summon Iran’s Iran’s charge d’affaires in London, Mehdi Hosseini, to “make clear this will not be tolerated.”

“The UK will always stand up to countries who threaten our fundamental values of freedom of expression and the media,” Cleverly said in a statement. 

The foreign secretary also announced new U.K. sanctions against eight individuals in Iran accused of carrying out the repression of protesters in Iran, including an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander in West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan where human rights groups say children were among those allegedly killed by security forces. Three senior judges also were sanctioned for imposing death sentences on demonstrators in Iran. 

Iran International 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.

In a statement, Iran’s U.N. mission said, "This channel has strayed from its professional nature because it promotes and teaches violence, making Molotov cocktails, resisting the police, and escaping from conflict scenes, etc. Iran put this TV channel on its terrorist list group after its actions outside the journalistic framework. As a result of this listing, Iran did not take any physical action against this channel, but rather started a legal case against it."

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.