Iranian authorities have arrested several people over alleged links to the BBC's Farsi-language service, it was reported last night.
Iran's semiofficial Mehr news agency reported yesterday that they had produced content and reported to the BBC. It said they facilitated training and hiring of some Iranian journalists and arranged trips abroad for them. It quoted an unnamed official as saying they were active since 2009 but it did not name them or say how many were arrested.
In London, the BBC said in a statement that the report "should be of deep concern to all those who believe in a free and independent media". The British broadcaster said it has "no BBC Persian staff members or stringers working inside Iran". In October, Iran released two filmmakers who were in jail on similar charges.
Tehran has accused the BBC of operating as a cover for British intelligence and of hosting Iranian dissidents. Last week the BBC accused Iran of intimidating staff members of its Persian service by slandering them and arresting relatives.
Mark Thompson, BBC Director-General, said Iran was pursuing a campaign of intimidation against Iranian staff who worked outside Iran. "This is a growing pattern. It's systematic and a campaign," he said.
Few Western journalists are permitted to work in Iran where the government views foreign media with suspicion. The BBC's service has often been jammed and is only available to owners of illegal satellite receivers.