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As Elections Loom, So Do Threats Against Radio Farda

Czech Republic -- Logo for Radio Farda programs, Prague,19Nov2009
Czech Republic -- Logo for Radio Farda programs, Prague,19Nov2009
With elections set for next week, authorities in Iran have stepped up harassment of family members of Radio Farda journalists in an apparent effort to undermine one of the few independent news sources available to voters.

"The harassment has intensified in the past several weeks, as the authorities take all possible precautions against anything that may challenge their control over the elections," said Radio Farda Director Armand Mostofi.

Radio Farda, RFE/RL's Persian-language service, has documented nine incidents during the month of May in which family members in Iran have been interrogated about their relatives' activity in Prague, told to persuade them to leave their jobs or stay but work covertly for Iranian intelligence, indirectly threatened with the loss of a job or educational opportunities because of their relatives' work and, in some cases, asked to spy on their relatives.

The methods used by authorities indicate detailed knowledge of Radio Farda journalists' relationships and activities, Mostofi said, offering clear evidence that Radio Farda reporting and families are subject to systematic surveillance in Iran. Mostofi added that Radio Farda journalists are also concerned about recent targeting of their email by what Google warns are "state-sponsored attackers...attempting to compromise [this] account or computer."

In addition, authorities have blackmailed relatives by threatening to prevent them from traveling abroad unless they cooperate. Radio Farda's broadcasts are routinely jammed, and journalists are subject to cyber attacks including email hacking, harassment over social media and efforts to discredit them online.

Radio Farda, produced in and broadcast from Prague, is a leading source of uncensored information in Iran. Each month more than 2 million users inside the country defy the government by employing proxies to access Radio Farda's website, which is blocked. Radio Farda and "Pasfarda," its signature satire program, are active on social media, with a combined 538,000 Facebook fans. Iranians actively participate in Radio Farda's weekly call-in shows, connect with it daily through hundreds of email and SMS messages, and despite government jamming, tune in to satellite radio and shortwave to hear its programs.