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LONDON: The British government on Monday (Feb 20) summoned Iran’s top diplomat in London to condemn “serious threats” to the lives of UK-based journalists after a Persian-language TV network was forced to relocate.

Charge d’Affaires Mehdi Hosseini Matin was hauled in “to make clear the UK will not tolerate threats to life and media freedom”, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.

The private network Iran International announced Saturday that it had been forced on UK police advice to shut down its London studios, and had switched to 24-hour broadcasting from Washington.

The station has provided extensive coverage of anti-government protests that erupted in Iran five months ago, and said two of its senior journalists received death threats in response to their reporting.

“I am appalled by the Iranian regime’s continuing threats to the lives of UK-based journalists and have today summoned its representative to make clear this will not be tolerated,” Cleverly added.

“The UK will always stand up to countries who threaten our fundamental values of freedom of expression and the media.”

The diplomat, Iran’s most senior representative in London in the absence of an ambassador, was directed to meet with the head of the UK foreign ministry’s Middle East department.

London’s Metropolitan police said Saturday that working with the MI5 spy agency, since the start of 2022, it had foiled 15 plots “to either kidnap or even kill” people seen as “enemies of the (Iranian) regime”.


But the decision to ask Iran International, which employs around 100 journalists in the British capital, to shutter its office sparked concerns from rights groups.

“UK is certainly able to guarantee the safety of #IranInternational. It’s a question of political will,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the Norway-based Iran Human Rights group.

“I hope it’s a temporary measure and that @IranIntl will resume its work from London soon,” he added on Twitter, arguing it was “unacceptable that UK gives in to terrorist threats”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman pushed back at such claims on Monday, telling reporters that the police have been working “extremely hard” to protect the station’s staff.

That work continues “to ensure they are protected,” he added.

Britain continues to host two other major Farsi outlets: BBC Persian and the widely followed Manoto TV.

Also on Monday, the UK government imposed new sanctions on eight senior Iranian figures it said are responsible for domestic oppression.

London said the move, hours after the European Union announced asset freezes and visa bans on Iran’s education and culture ministers, was “part of wider efforts to hold the regime to account over its behaviour globally”.

The latest UK sanctions targeted three Iranian judges who had imposed the death penalty against protesters, and five commanders from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Cleverly said the UK steps showed the UK “will never allow the regime’s threats to go unchallenged”.

He added the eight Iranians now subject to travel bans and asset freezes were “responsible for horrific human rights violations in Iran, including the killing of children”.

London has hit more than 50 Iranian individuals and entities with sanctions in response to alleged human rights violations since the latest period of unrest began last September.