Iran arrests seven tied to US-backed radio station


We in US radio sometimes forget how dangerous it is to be a broadcaster elsewhere in the world. Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, reports that seven people linked to Radio Farda have been arrested.

Radio Farda is the Farsi-language broadcast service funded by the US government which launched in 2002. It is based on the successful Radio Sawa in Iraq, designed by Westwood One founder Norm Pattiz to deliver a mix of music and uncensored news aimed at young listeners. In fact, Pattiz was still a member of the US government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors when Radio Farda was launched in 2002. Based in the Czech Republic, Radio Farda uses high-powered AM transmitters to put signals into Iran.

IRNA said the seven people in custody are suspected of provoking protesters during violent demonstrations in December against the Iranian government. Such demonstrations have occurred on and off since disputed elections last year. Opposition leaders have called for opponents of the current regime to stage new protests on February 11th, when Iranians observe the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the US-backed shah. The government has warned of severe reprisals if such protests take place.

Some of the seven people arrested are accused of working for US spy agencies, as well as Radio Farda. Such accusations are standard fare for the Iranian government. US journalist Roxana Saberi, a stringer for NPR, Fox News and the BBC, was released in May 2009 after nearly five months in custody and a one-day secret trial in which she was convicted of spying for the US. Saberi and her news employers have repeatedly denied the spy allegations.