Iran Calls VOA, BBC Arms of U.S., British Spy Agencies

Iran's police chief on Saturday accused the Voice of America and the BBC of being the arms of U.S. and British intelligence agencies, and warned of severe repercussions for journalists and activists caught having contacts with them, state media reported.

Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, whose police forces have played a key role in the government crackdown on protesters since Iran's disputed presidential election, was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying opposition activists have cooperated with the BBC and the Voice of America "with the aim of weakening and overthrowing the (ruling) system."

"The BBC is the arm of MI-6 (Britain's foreign intelligence agency) and VOA belongs to the CIA" Moghaddam said, according to IRNA. "Those who cooperate with foreign services through transmitting photos, reports, news and anti-revolutionary actions ... should know that all their actions are monitored."

"We will settle accounts with them when the time comes," Moghaddam warned.

Tehran has repeatedly accused the U.S. and Britain of fueling the country's postelection unrest in a bid to oust the Iran's clerical rulers. It also frequently accuses its opponents of being in league with the country's enemies, and Moghaddam's comments appear to be part of Tehran's efforts to discredit the opposition by linking them with foreign powers.

The Voice of America and the BBC, which are funded by the U.S. and British governments respectively, have their own Persian radio and TV services, which many Iranians tune in to despite a ban on satellite dishes and government attempts to jam the airwaves.

Last month, a top Iranian Intelligence Ministry official banned Iranians from having any contact with 60 foreign news organizations, Iranian opposition Web sites, human rights groups and nongovernment organizations. The official accused the media of provoking street riots in Iran.

The intelligence official, who was not identified by name, specifically mentioned VOA and BBC as well as a dozen other Persian-language opposition radios and news Web sites, saying the government will consider cooperation with the news outlets as collaboration with the nation's enemies.

Moghaddam also vowed to crush possible opposition protests during celebrations for the Persian New Year next month.

Iranians regard the holiday as a chance to purify the soul for the new year, or Nowruz, which begins on March 21. Opposition supporters say they may hold street protests to coincide with the event.

Iran's opposition used a religious holiday in late December to rally its supporters, holding massive demonstrations in the streets of Tehran. On that day, at least eight people were killed in clashes between security forces and demonstrators in the worst bloodshed since the height of the unrest last summer.

The turmoil erupted last June after Iran's disputed presidential election. The opposition claimed that its leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was the rightful winner and that hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's win was fraudulent.

The opposition says more than 80 protesters were killed in the postelection crackdown, although the government puts the number of confirmed dead at less than 40.

Also Saturday, the personal Web site of a senior opposition figure, Mahdi Karroubi, appeared to be hacked by a group calling itself the "Sun Army." Instead of the page's regular content, the group posted its name and a photo of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as well as his successor — now Iran's current leader — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A text posted on a black background called Karroubi a "puppet sheik and traitor to Islamic Iran."

Iranian authorities have blocked Karroubi Web sites and those of his party in the past. The Internet is the opposition leaders' main form of communication with their supporters.