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The cost of reporting on the Iran protests

How Iran International handles government opposition
Journalists at Iran International continue reporting despite government opposition 02:18

London — Iran's government has cracked down brutally to rein in massive protests that erupted across the country in the wake of Mahsa Amini's death in police custody last year, but that does not mean Iranians have given up on change. Many remain angry, but in a country with one of the world's worst media freedom rankings, that anger is often reported on by journalists who have been forced to move abroad.

"The media and social media in Iran is tightly controlled. There's Internet censorship and the radio and television are censored by the government," Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East North Africa program at London's Chatham House think tank, told CBS News. "But there are all sorts of workarounds — and people have VPNs, and then they have satellites — and having access to outside free media and reporting provides ordinary Iranians with really important information about what's going on inside the country."

But many exiled Iranian journalists have faced threats to their lives for continuing to tell the story. That includes some of those working for Iran International, a TV station based between London and Washington D.C.

"This kind of governments, which are based on lies and censorship, they see every free journalist as a threat," Iran International's executive editor Aliasghar Ramezanpour told CBS News when we visited the station's London newsroom earlier this year.

Iran International transmits a live bulletin from London on February 14, 2023. CBS News

Considered an opposition channel by many inside Iran, the network became a prominent source of information about the protests for Iranians, airing social media videos sent in by people on the streets.

Tehran claims the channel has ties to Iran's political rival Saudi Arabia, and authorities have branded its employees terrorists. Iran International says its parent company receives money from a Saudi financier, but that it is editorially independent.  

Though banned inside Iran, it can be accessed via satellite.

"Every day, every second, we are receiving information from people inside Iran," Ramezanpour said.

Is Iran really shutting down its controversial morality police? 06:29

Many Iran International staff didn't want to be identified when we visited the newsroom, to protect themselves and their families in Iran from potential retribution.

Late last year, London antiterrorism police informed some of the company's employees that there had been credible threats made against their lives. Armed security personnel and new barriers were installed outside their London studio. 

"The Islamic Republic has a long history of trying to pressure, if not silence, activists and dissidents abroad. So this isn't new, but of course, through the protests, they have seen increased cooperation and collaboration within the diaspora," said Vaki at Chatham House. "So they've tried to target certain figures that they find threatening." 

Iranian court hands out death sentences to protesters, with thousands more awaiting trial 01:53

Up until February, approximately 300 Iran International staff would put out regular live bulletins from the channel's London headquarters. But in the middle of that month, at least one person was arrested in the area and charged under U.K. antiterrorism laws. Days later, the channel said security advice from U.K. police had prompted it to close its U.K. broadcast center and move all of its operations to Washington D.C.

Ramezanpour is one of the journalists who received death threats. Before Iran International's London offices closed, he told CBS News that the threats scared him, but he would keep going.

"That's kind of our responsibility as a journalist… and that's the thing that makes the government more angry about us, because they see that we are kind of a voice for people in Iran who don't have a voice."

Iran International is currently producing all of its bulletins from Washington D.C. It says, however, that it has plans to resume operations in London from a different location this summer.

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