Saudi Arabia backed anti-Iran TV channel in Netherlands tied to terror convictions: Report
Research by radio program Argos, the Danish public broadcaster DR and the Norwegian NRK has revealed that the anti-Iranian satellite channel Ahwazna TV in Rijswijk has been receiving money from the Saudi Arabian intelligence service.
The Danish-led wing of the Iranian opposition group, Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), was discovered to have received money to finance its organization in Europe and its armed branch in Iran. The group’s aim is to lift up the oppressed Arab minority in the Iranian region of Khuzestan, and push for independence.
ASMLA leader Habib Jabor, alongside two others, was found guilty of spying and financing terrorism in Iran last week, cooperating with the Saudi intelligence service using the name MS32. Argos also broke the story that the group also spied on a number of people in the Netherlands.
This is not the first time Ahwazna TV has made headlines; last autumn another ASMLA member was convicted in Rotterdam. Eisa S., an Iranian refugee living in Delft, was jailed for four years for working alongside a Danish ASMLA leader to finance an attack in Iran. The Dutch domestic intelligence service, AIVD, intercepted chat messages allegedly between S. and the three people arrested in Denmark. The chats took place on the television channel's WhatsApp and Telegram accounts, and involved discussions of attacks on checkpoints, police stations, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The channel Ahwazna TV has been based in Rijswijk since 2017. According to police documents from DR in collaboration with Argos and NRK, the ASMLA put around 1.2 million euros into their campaigns through the Dutch channel between 2017-2019. The Danish court assumed that ASMLA received rewards in the form of “significant sums” from the Saudis in response to their anti-Iranian messages spread through channels such as Ahwazna TV.
The broadcaster denied the allegations, and said they were targeted as part of a smear campaign organized by Iran. The broadcaster said they never promoted terrorism, according to Argos. They claim they were just reporting on the situation in Iran as it unfolded, saying, “There are daily crimes against the Arabs, the native people of Ahwaz, by the Iranian regime.”
Ahwazna TV also disputes that they received 1.2 million euros because they use volunteers and second-hand equipment to operate. Broadcasts from the Netherlands have been suspended, and in Denmark, Ahwazna TV has been banned altogether for two years due to its promotion of terrorism.
Between 2014 and 2015, ASMLA asked for and was granted further funding from Saudi Arabia for their demonstrations in Europe against Iran. They claimed the money was needed for plane tickets, hotels, buses, and allowances for journalists. Police documents show that costs for these demonstrations were as high as 190,000 euros for one demonstration in The Hague, Argos reported.
Iranian officials have consistently asked the Dutch and Danish governments to intervene in the ASMLA and Saudi Arabia terrorism operations. Argos journalists said they already knew in 2019 that Iranian spies were very interested in Ahwazna TV and Eisa S.