Iran files charges over BBC report on teen girl allegedly killed by security forces in 2022 protests

FILE - A woman holds a placard with a picture of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini during a protest against her death, in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 28, 2022. Iranian prosecutors filed criminal charges Wednesday, May 1, 2024, targeting activists and journalists following a BBC report that alleged security forces "sexually assaulted and killed" a 16-year-old girl who led protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

By JON GAMBRELL Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) — Iranian prosecutors filed criminal charges on Wednesday targeting activists and journalists following a BBC report that alleged security forces had “sexually assaulted and killed” a 16-year-old girl during protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022.

Nika Shakarami’s death also sparked widespread outrage at the time.

Amini died after being detained by police over allegedly not wearing her mandatory hijab, or headscarf, to their liking. U.N. investigators have said Iran is responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.

In Shakarami’s case, authorities said she died after falling from a tall building, something immediately disputed by her mother, who said her daughter had been beaten.

The BBC report published on Monday — relying on what it described as a report written for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard — said Shakarami was detained by undercover security forces who molested her, then killed her with batons and electronic stun guns after she struggled against the assault.

Iran’s Mizan news agency, run by the country’s judiciary, said on Wednesday that the BBC story was “a fake, incorrect and full-of-mistakes report,” without addressing any of the alleged errors it contained.

It was the government’s first acknowledgment of the BBC report and it said “journalists and activists” have been summoned over the issue.

“The Tehran Prosecutor’s Office filed a criminal case against these people,” Mizan said, with charges including “spreading lies” and “propaganda against the system.” The first charge can carry up at a year and a half in prison and dozens of lashes, while the second can involve up to a year’s imprisonment.

Mizan did not identify those charges and it was unclear whether prosecutors had charged three BBC journalists who bylined the report. Those associated with the BBC’s Persian service have been targeted for years by Tehran and barred from working in the country since its disputed 2009 presidential election and Green Movement protests.

The BBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The broadcaster noted that in recent years, there have been faked documents floating around during widespread protests, purporting to be from the Iranian government.

However, it said it had “confidence that it is genuine,” despite an inconsistency in the report using an old acronym for the police.

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Wednesday tried to dismiss the BBC report as an effort to “divert attention” from ongoing protests at American universities over the Israel-Hamas war — despite the events dominating U.S. television networks.

“The enemy and their media have resorted to false and far-fetched reports to conduct psychological operations,” Vahidi said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.