LONDON: A London-based Persian-language television channel has been forced to close its offices on police advice in response to potential threats from Iran against a number of UK-based individuals.
“After a significant escalation in state-backed threats from Iran and advice from the Metropolitan Police, Iran International TV has reluctantly closed its London studios and moved broadcasting to Washington D.C.,” where it will continue to operate uninterrupted, the station said in a statement.
The move comes a week after police arrested and charged Austrian national Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev, 30, for allegedly “collecting information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism,” police said.
“Threats had grown to the point that it was felt it was no longer possible to protect the channel’s staff, other employees at Chiswick Business Park and the general public,” the company added.
Iran International, which was launched in May 2017 and provides extensive coverage of anti-regime demonstrations, is headquartered in a complex in west London formed of 12 buildings that host several foreign and global companies, employing thousands of staff from all over the world.
Assistant Commissioner Matt Jukes, head of the Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism unit, said: “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.”
In November, police installed barriers and security checks, and placed armed officers around the channel’s building, and Jukes confirmed that despite the relocation, “protective security measures” will remain in place to “reassure” the local community.
“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,” said Mahmood Enayat, general manager of Iran International TV.
“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,” he added in a statement.
Adam Baillie, lead media liaison at Volant Media, which owns Iran International TV, confirmed to Arab News that there has been no interruption to the station’s broadcasts and that it is now transmitting through its studios in the US.
He said that Afghanistan International, also owned by Volant Media, is continuing to work inside the studios in Chiswick, but Iran International employees are now working remotely.
“It’s basically (like) another COVID lockdown, which is working from home, because it’s just easier and safer at the moment, as far as the police are concerned, for us to do that.
“Remember that it’s a big business park, we just occupy one part of a building and there are something like 10,000 people, so the police have to be mindful of the safety of the area, not just us,” Baillie added.
He said that aside from the rise in threat level, all staff are safe, and although the situation is “very worrying, in a way nothing has changed and people just carry on working.”
Baillie also said that the shift is temporary, and there are no plans to move out, shut down or make staff redundant.
Since its inception, staff at Iran International TV claim they have faced a campaign of threats, and that pressure has been applied on their families in Iran.
Jukes said police and MI5 have foiled 15 plots since the start of 2022 to either kidnap or kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime.
“This news may also be of concern to members of the wider Iranian diaspora in the UK,” he said. “If anyone has concerns over their own safety or the safety of somebody else, then they should contact their local police force.”