Iran Says BBC Hacked Online Poll Calling For Nuclear Compromise To End Sanctions

As with many police states, Iranian opinion polling is notoriously unreliable. That is what made it so curious that an online survey on a state-run news website produced results at odds with official policy on the country’s disputed nuclear program.

The IRINN put up results on its homepage from an online survey on Tuesday asking what Iran should do in response to the increased pressure levied by the West against Iran. But the Iranian news agency quickly took down the results and accused the BBC — which had reported on the survey — of hacking the website to tamper with the poll’s outcome.

According to Golnaz Esfandiari at RFE/RL, the survey asked respondents:

What method do you prefer for facing the unilateral Western sanctions against Iran?1. Giving up uranium enrichment in return of the gradual removal of sanctions2. Retaliatory measure by closing the Strait of Hormuz3. Resistance against the unilateral sanctions for preserving nuclear rights

As of Tuesday evening, 63 percent opted for the first option: for Iran to give up domestic enrichment. During recent nuclear talks with the West, however, Iran has held fast to a position of maintaining the full nuclear fuel cycle. (Multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions demand enrichment be suspended, but Iran says such demands violate its rights as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — a right some experts dispute.)

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Though also not entirely reliable, a 2008 World Public opinion survey found that 90 percent of Iranians support “hav(ing) a full fuel cycle nuclear program” — which would entail enrichment — and a RAND survey last year (PDF) found that nearly 90 percent of Iranians “strongly favored” a civilian nuclear program and 98 percent viewed the program as a national right.

The IRINN survey, therefore, represents a startling shift made all the more stark because it was published on a government-run media site. An initial analysis on the IRINN, according to the BBC, cast doubt on its own survey by remarking that the results “by no means can reflect the views of all or even the majority of the revolutionary people of Iran.”

Nonetheless, the disparity between policy and the survey results may have driven the news agency to quickly remove the results and replace them with a survey about soccer. The website put up a statement that the survey was hacked by “countries outside of Iran, including England,” according to Esfandiari, adding that the BBC’s Persian service — an old foil of the Iranian government — had promoted the results, suggesting complicity in the supposedly skewed results.

The BBC released a statement calling the accusations “both ludicrous and completely false, and the BBC Persian Service stands by its reporting.”