Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Iran Sets New Restrictions On University Concerts

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his conservative allies say universities are no place for concerts.


Iran has set new restrictions on concerts held at universities, as hard-liners dig in their heels after election gains for moderates who might seek to ease some of the Islamic republic's harshest limits on cultural life.

The regulations, issued by the state council for the Islamization of universities and educational centers, declares that "holding concerts and independent musical programs is not a priority for universities and is not allowed."

But it adds that only "fine and valuable Iranian music" that "strengthens national identity" and is in line with "Islamic norms" can be played while emphasizing that promoting music is not part of universities' mission.

The regulations also say that music played at university concerts should encourage commitment to "moral, social, political, and revolutionary responsibilities."

It also says that music should not create "excitement that is out of the norm" or provoke "lust."

Lyrics that encourage "promiscuity," "despair and hopelessness," "superficiality," and "neglect human dignity" should be avoided, according to the regulations as published by the news site Khabaronline.ir.

The new restrictions come several months after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly criticized university concerts and mixed student camps as very wrong.

In a July 2015 meeting with a group of students, Khamenei quoted approvingly a student as saying that "university is not a place for concerts."

"Sending students to mixed camps and holding concerts in universities to, in our minds, create joy in the student environment, is among the most wrong deeds," Khamenei was quoted as saying by domestic media.

In September, the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Khamenei's representative at universities, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadian, as saying that "universities have been told that they don't have the right to hold concerts."

Several concerts have reportedly been canceled at universities in recent months, including a music festival that was due to be held at Tehran's Sharif University in February.

Music came under a crackdown following the 1979 revolution, but restrictions have since been relaxed.

In past months, hard-liners who deem cultural policies advocated by President Hassan Rohani too liberal have disrupted or canceled a number of concerts.

Rohani's moderate and pragmatic allies saw gains in last month's national elections to parliament and the body that oversees the supreme leader, who holds ultimate power in politics and religion under Iran's constitution.

Since a landmark nuclear deal was struck last year with world powers, Supreme Leader Khamenei and hard-liners have repeatedly warned against allowing Western culture or values to creep into Iranian society.

Nine Takeaways From Iran's Elections

An Iranian supporter of the Reformists during an election campaign in Tehran.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iran's moderates and reformists have had nearly a week to celebrate their return from a decade of political marginalization in elections that recast the ranks of the parliament and the clerically dominated Assembly of Experts, which selects and oversees the supreme leader. But how much has really changed?

Here are nine things you should know about the results of the latest voting under Iran's tightly controlled, carefully vetted, political system.

Hard-Liners Were Dealt A Blow...

The results of the votes demonstrate a rejection of hard-line views and policies.

The message was particularly emphatic in the capital, where moderates won all 30 seats reserved for the parliament and 15 of 16 Tehran seats in the Assembly of Experts.

"Tehran is the political hub and the definitive center of power," says analyst Saeed Barzin, highlighting the psychological blow.

Two clerics known for their radical worldviews failed to keep their seats in the Assembly of Experts. Out is Ayatollah Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, a longtime supporter of hawkish ex-President Mahmud Ahmadinejad known for his hard-line views, including saying recently that people's votes don't matter in an Islamic system. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the current head of the Assembly of Experts and former judiciary chief who has opposed any loosening of social norms, was also defeated in Tehran. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who heads the powerful Guardians Council, snuck in at the bottom of the Assembly of Experts list from Tehran.
"People didn't trust those who don't value their vote and opinions, they voted for the opposite side," the popular news site Asriran.com argued on March 1.
"The election results were surely a big victory for moderate forces and a terrifying failure for hard-liners," Saeed Laylaz, an economist who advised former reformist President Mohammad Khatami, told the Financial Times.
...But They're Not Gone
Despite the embarrassing defeat in Tehran, hard-liners reportedly won 78 races for the 290-seat parliament. Moderate forces have so far been declared winners in 83 races and independents 60. The fate of a further 69 seats will be decided in run-offs expected in April.

Hard-liners remain in charge of powerful state bodies, including the judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that are so actively involved in state repression. Those powerful bodies are unlikely to veer in the near future from their course of repression.

And while some reports question the health of the staunchly conservative and anti-Western supreme leader, 76-year-old Ali Khamenei, he continues to have the final say in Iran's religious and political affairs. 

Reformists Are Not Back

The reformist gains are a boost for the pro-reform camp that was able to reconnect with voters. But it doesn't mean that Iran is seeing a reemergence of the reformist movement that rose to prominence with the 1997 election of Mohammad Khatami as president. 

Many of the reformist camp's most prominent figures were disqualified from these elections. The reformists responded with a so-called List of Hope -- an alliance of reformists, moderate conservatives, and pragmatists supportive of the relative moderate who swept into the presidency in 2013, Hassan Rohani. Rohani has called publicly for greater rights for women, "the right to think freely" for Iranians in "their private lives," and greater Iranian diplomatic engagement with the world, although his progress has been confined to the last of those areas, most notably through the nuclear deal reached with world powers in July.

But Washington-based political analyst Ali Afshari says the reformists elected to parliament in these elections have a "weak" reformist agenda, suggesting they're not supportive of some of the reformist's more liberal and pro-democracy demands.
"It's not clear, after entering the parliament and facing pressure and threats from the establishment, to what extent they will remain firm on their stances," Afshari tells RFE/RL.
For instance, one reformist lawmaker-elect quickly came under pressure over a quote that appeared after the vote suggesting that women should be allowed to choose whether or not they want to wear the hijab, the Islamic head scarf. Parvaneh Salahshuri reportedly made the comment in a February 29 interview with Italian journalist Viviana Mazza but, following hard-line criticism, said that her comments had been "misunderstood." In an interview with the hard-line Tasnim news agency, Salahshuri said while there could be differences in the way the wearing of the hijab is enforced, "there is no doubt that it should be observed." Tasnim quoted her as saying that she "apologizes "and understands "the sensitivities" regarding the issue.
Parliament Looks More Moderate
The hard-liners appear to have lost their dominance in the parliament, where they have openly challenged Rohani's outreach efforts, including the nuclear deal and other engagement with the international community, as well as social policies they deem too liberal.

London-based analyst Barzin even speculates that the incoming parliament is likely to be controlled by pro-Rohani forces. 
"The parliament will be split almost evenly between a pro-government camp, the [right-wing] principlists, and the independents. Each bloc has about 25 percent of the seats. Some 25 percent of the seats have gone to [run-offs in] the second round, and will probably again split between the three trends," Barzin says.
A more cooperative parliament could make it easier for Rohani to advance his economic agenda, pave the way for foreign investment, and bring modest social changes.

No Major Foreign Policy Changes Are Expected

Iran's role in Syria, where the IRGC is supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is unlikely to change as the results of these elections.
On the other hand, analyst Barzin says the moderate win in parliament could positively affect Iran's ties with regional rival Saudi Arabia by empowering Rohani. The Saudis broke their ties with Iran after an attack by hard-liners on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, which itself followed the execution of a Shi'ite cleric accused of violent extremism, Nimr Al-Nimr, a move that was strongly condemned by Iranian officials.
With greater support at home, Rohani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will be in a stronger negotiating position for outreach efforts that have been criticized by hard-liners, argues Barzin.
"A stronger government should mean the possibility of [a] greater approach [to] a political solution [to] the crisis in relations with Saudi Arabia," says Barzin.
Despite Appearances, There's No Seismic Shift In The Assembly
The elimination from the Assembly of Experts of current Chairman Yazdi and the hawkish theologian Mesbah Yazdi is significant. 

Farzan Sabet, a nuclear security fellow at Stanford University and managing editor of a website, IranPolitik.com, which focuses on Iranian politics, says hard-line defeats there are "a win for those who wanted a more moderate assembly." 

Yet the assembly's composition doesn't appear to have undergone major changes, although it is perhaps too soon to tell.

"We don't fully understand what kind of new assembly we are looking at," Sabet says.

And anyways, Sabet adds, the results of any major shift "would mainly be seen in a potential future supreme-leader transition, rather than in the short term."

Analyst Ashfari cautions that "the majority of seats are still controlled by the hard-liners, those [on the list] of the influential Qom Society of Seminary Teachers, and those loyal to [Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Khamenei." 

Ex-President Khatami Remains Influential
The reformist former President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) remains popular despite a media and public-speaking ban and and his failure to achieve many of his stated reform goals. He has been given credit for much of the support that reformist and moderate forces received in these elections, partly the result of a YouTube clip encouraging his supporters to vote for candidates from the "List Of Hope."
Tehran-based professor Sadegh Zibakalam noted that some of those elected to parliament from Tehran are relative unknowns deeply indebted to Khatami for their victory. "This shows the depth of people's trust in the senior figures of the reformist movement," Zibakalam said in the Iranian daily Arman on February 28.
Speaking on state-controlled television on March 1, moderate conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari (who won reelection from Tehran) said the long-running media ban on Khatami had resulted in the opposite of its intended effect. "Those who enforced the ban on Khatami did so to prevent him from influencing the elections. But we saw that this policy resulted in [Khatami] having a greater influence."

Elections Are Seen As The Only Option For Change

Many Iranians want to see a stronger economy, more jobs, good ties with Western countries, and more freedom. Rohani's election to the presidency three years ago and last week's gains by relative moderates highlight those desires.

The 63 percent turnout last week suggests that despite the heavily restricted nature of the Iranian elections and the sharply disputed reelection of Ahmadinejad in 2009 and subsequent crackdown, many Iranians still believe the ballot box is the only option to achieve gradual change in the Islamic republic. Some of last week's voters have said they cast their ballots knowing that the elections were not free but rather a choice between bad and worse.
Khamenei Wins, Too

The elections are seen as a victory for Rohani and the moderate forces that are supportive of last year's nuclear accord, under which Iran has significantly limited sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. 
But Rand Corporation senior analyst Alireza Nader noted that they are also a win for Khamenei, who had urged even those who don't approve of him to vote. Nader said in a March 2 analysis that the sizable turnout "eases Khamenei's fear of his regime losing legitimacy in the face of economic malaise and popular dissatisfaction."

He added, citing popular disillusionment from 2009 election and the Green Movement whose leaders were subsequently put under house arrest: "Khamenei's concerns are framed by the massive 2009 Green uprising that shook the Iranian regime to its core. [Rohani's] presidency, the nuclear agreement, a slight improvement in the economy, and Iran's reduced international isolation and improved regional position have made the regime much more stable since 2009. And the recent elections add to this momentum." 

Iranian Lawmaker Says Parliament Is No Place For Women, Donkeys

Women wait in line to cast their votes in parliamentary elections in Tehran on February 26.

Golnaz Esfandiari

A hard-line Iranian lawmaker has come under fire for declaring that women should not be allowed to serve in parliament.

"The parliament is not a place for women, it's a place for men," lawmaker Nader Ghazipur said in a video posted online in which he appears to suggest that women can be abused and places women in the same category as "donkeys," a term used to insult a person's intelligence.

"We didn't easily win control over the country to send every fox, kid, and donkey there. The parliament is not a place for donkeys," he said.

Ghazipour, 57, was reelected to Iran's parliament last week in his hometown of Orumiyeh in West Azerbaijan Province. He appears to have made the comments during a meeting at his campaign headquarters.

His comments come as a record number of women -- as many as 20 -- are expected to gain seats in the parliament following the February 26 poll.

The YouTube video of Ghazipur's controversial and crude remarks was posted recently, sparking both online and offline criticism, as well as calls for him to be barred from office.

Zahra Nejadbahram, the head of the Information Council of the government's office for women's and family affairs, was quoted by Iranian news sites as saying that Ghazipur should be disqualified.

"When his thinking [allows] him to insult half of the country's population, he should expect a reaction, and the reaction should be the rejection of his [credentials]," Nejadbahram said on March 2.

The Orumiyeh branch of a women's group, the Islamic Society of Revolutionary Women, said Ghazipur should be disqualified for his "obvious and blatant disrespect of women."

Criticism also came from Orumiyeh's Friday Prayers leader, Mehdi Ghoreishi, who did not name Ghazipur but said that "insults and vulgarity" are "not worthy of an Islamic society."

"We should not allow rudeness and vulgarity to become institutionalized in our city," the cleric was quoted by domestic media as saying.

On social media, some called on the Guardians Council, which approved Ghazipur to run in last week's elections, to disqualify him. Others likened him to former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who was known for his use of crude and undiplomatic language.

In an Instagram post, Ghazipur apologized to the women of Orumiyeh while calling himself a "servant and soldier" of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"I apologized for the comments that hurt the feelings of the ladies of Orumiyeh because I wasn't talking about them," he wrote.

"Those who spied [on me] and recorded and published the video should doubt themselves, because by attempting to hurt Ghazipur, they're putting people's votes under question," he wrote, adding that he will not change his "stances."

Ghazipur is a member of the parliament's Mine and Industry Commission. His biography says he fought during the 1980-88 war with Iraq to defend "his country and Islamic values."

He also worked as Khamenei's campaign manager in 1981 and 1985, according to his biography posted on the website of the parliament's research center.

Iranian VP Under Fire For Claiming All Of Village's Men 'Executed'

Iranian Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi has yet to react publicly to the wave of criticism.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi has come under fire for claiming that the entire male population of a village in restive Sistan-Baluchistan Province has been executed on drug-related offenses. 
Molaverdi made the claim in a February 23 interview with the semiofficial Mehr news agency, without specifying the name of the village or the number of people executed.
"We have a village in Sistan-Baluchistan where every single man has been executed," Molaverdi said.

The province is used as a route by drug traffickers due to its proximity to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Molaverdi warned that "the survivors are potential drug dealers, as they would want to seek revenge for their fathers and also provide for their families."
The shocking claim, which made headlines in Persian-language and Western media, has angered local officials, who accuse Molaverdi of spreading lies and damaging the province.
Sistan-Baluchistan's deputy chief justice, Mohammad Ali Hamidian, said on March 2 that a legal complaint has been launched against Molaverdi because, he said, her claim constituted "spreading lies and defamation" about the judicial system.
Hamidian was quoted by local news sites as saying that Molaverdi has linked "the failure" of the executive branch to solve the problems of Sistan-Baluchistan -- one of Iran's poorest regions -- to the judiciary.
Another local official, Hassan Razavidust, also blasted Molaverdi, while dismissing her claim as a "pure lie."
"Since the claim is false, the vice president should be held [legally] responsible and apologize to the people in the province," Razavidust, a deputy prosecutor for the region's capital, Zahedan, was quoted by domestic media as saying.
Several lawmakers also criticized Molaverdi while suggesting that such a village does not exist. Among them is Zahedan's representative to the parliament, who said the issue will be pursued through the parliament and other bodies.
"This interview destroyed the reputation of Sistan-Baluchistan," the lawmaker, Hosseinali Shahriari, said. He added: "Many people contact us and ask about the basis for this claim."
Shahriari said he personally had no information about such a village.
Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of the Iranian judiciary's Human Rights Council, told CNN on March 1 that he is looking into the issue.
He suggested that the number of those executed in the village was small.

"[As for] what the vice president said, I think we should be aware that a village which has only five families living in it...the male population of that -- five or six [men] -- could be involved in the drug-trafficking incident," Larijani told CNN in an interview from Geneva.
Molaverdi has yet to react publicly to the wave of criticism.
She was quoted by a local website as saying that she does not plan to give any interviews on the matter.

Iran has one the highest execution rates in the world. According to figures released by Amnesty International, Iran executed nearly 700 people in the first half of 2015. 

Most of those were hanged after being convicted of drug-related offenses, including drug trafficking.

'Tehran Is Now Free' -- Iranian Election Results Spark Gleeful Social-Media Response

An Iranian supporter of the reformist camp flashes a victory sign during the run-up to national elections elections on February 26. The success of the reformists and relative moderates has given rise to a wave of jokes across Iranian social media.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Many pro-reform Iranians who voted in the February 26 elections for the parliament and the Assembly of Experts, mainly to make sure fewer hard-liners get elected, have been sharing jokes about what appears to be a landslide win for reformists and relative moderates in the Iranian capital.
"Dear citizens! Attention please, attention please: Tehran is now free," said a message widely shared on social media, including on the hugely popular, anonymous messaging app Telegram, which remains unfiltered despite pressure from hard-liners.
The joke started making the rounds on February 27 right after preliminary results showed that allies of President Hassan Rohani had made a clean sweep of all 30 parliament seats in the capital.
Rohani and his ally, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, are also leading the race in Tehran for the powerful Assembly of Experts, which has the power to select the country's next supreme leader.
Hard-line former parliament speaker Haddad Adel ended up being the butt of many jokes when, at one point, it appeared that he would have a battle on his hands to be the only conservative to make it to the new legislature from the Tehran constituency. (He now appears to have been eliminated, according to the latest results.)
One popular Telegram joke described Haddad Adel forlornly resting his head on the legs of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and telling him: 'I won’t go the parliament!!!'"
Khamenei responds by saying: "Don’t be afraid, my little one. You'll find new friends.'"
Another joke, also shared on Telegram, said:
"To keep things calm, [the head of the Guardian Council Ayatollah] Jannati has told reformist candidate Mohammad Reza Aref [who's leading the parliament race in Tehran]:" Take this kid with you, he will promise to be good. Right, Gholamali [Haddad Adel]?"
Reformists had campaigned to push Jannati and two other ultra-hardline clerics, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, out of the new Assembly of Experts, which could end up choosing the successor to 76-year-old Khamenei who underwent prostate surgery in 2014.
According to preliminary results, Yazdi and Mesbah Yazdi appear to have lost their seats and Jannati's fate seems to be hanging by a thread.
"Don’t push me [out]!" pleads Jannati in one Telegram skit, a reference to the fact that he is currently languishing in 15th place near the bottom of the list of assembly candidates from Tehran. 

Another popular joke alludes to the house arrest of Iranian opposition figures Mir Hossein Musavi, his wife, university professor Zahra Rahnavard, and fellow reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi.
The three oppositionists, who seem to enjoy enduring popularity, were put under house arrest in February 2011 after repeatedly challenging the Iranian establishment over the 2009 disputed presidential vote and criticizing human rights abuses.
The joke has the trio's supporters declaring that "if Jannati doesn't get elected, we will take to the streets to protest and claim we're his fans so that they put him under house arrest." 
Several jokes also highlighted the reformist win in Tehran and perceived concerns among Iran's hard-liners that the contagion could spread to the rest of the country.
One of the most widespread Telegram memes had hard-line Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, declaring that it was"haram" [forbidden] to continue counting votes
Plenty of Twitter users also riffed on the same theme:


​TRANSLATION: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "Please end the vote counting. Please don't stretch it any longer." 


People also poked fun at Iran's highest authority Ayatollah Khamenei who had said before the vote that even those who don't approve of him should participate in the February 26 elections.
A viral Telegram message lampooned the supreme leader by having him say: "I told those opposing the system to vote. But not like this!"
Many of the jokes also recognized the role former President Mohammad Khatami played in encouraging people to vote for the list of pro-reform and relatively moderate candidates known as the List Of Hope.
Khatami, who is under a media ban, urged people to vote for reformists in a YouTube video that became an instant hit and helped mobilize support for the reformist camp, something that some witty Twitter users were quick to acknowledge:

Khatami's video also inspired a Telegram gag that referenced the controversial frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the U.S. presidential election.
In the joke, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamamd Javad Zarif calls up his U.S. counterpart John Kerry and says: "Hey, man, if Donald Trump is really becoming a problem for you guys let me know. I'll tell our Mohammad [Khatami] to send a message."​

Iran's Hard-Liners Accuse Britain Of Backing Moderates In Upcoming Vote

Iranian President Hassan Rohani (left) and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani have called the insinuation an insult to voters' intelligence.

Golnaz Esfandiari

Iranian hard-liners are trying to undermine their moderate opponents ahead of the February 26 parliamentary elections by alleging that their list of candidates is supported by Great Britain.

The vote will pit moderates against hard-liners running for the parliament's 290 seats and the 86-member Assembly of Experts that could choose Iran's next supreme leader. Many prominent reformists have been reportedly barred from running by the conservative Guardians Council that screens all candidates for office in the Islamic republic.

"The British government is evil, and when it supports only some of the election lists, we should be worried," said Ayatollah Hassan Mamduhi, a member of the Assembly of Experts.

Speaking to the Tasnim news agency, which is affiliated with the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Mamduhi added that "those candidates that are being supported by Britain" should declare their innocence.

Many pointed the finger at the BBC, claiming that the British news service had told Iranians which candidates to vote for.

Among these accusers was ultraconservative cleric Ahmad Khatami, also a member of the Assembly of Experts, who claimed that "arrogant powers" are intent on an "infiltration" of Iran's center of power.

"Isn't it interference by the British media to present a list of candidates and tell [people], 'Vote for this, don't vote for that'?" Khatami said over the weekend.

The Persian service of the BBC appears to have angered Iranian hard-liners due to its popularity and attempts to provide Iranians with news and information they don't get from heavily censored Iranian state broadcasts.

The news portal Mashreghnews.ir posted pictures of several people in the western province of Ilam holding signs that said "I will not vote for the BBC candidate."

The "British list" allegations prompted a sharp reaction from Iranian President Hassan Rohani, a self-proclaimed moderate, who said the intelligence of Iranian voters should not be insulted. "There is no need to add color to the old face of worn-out colonial [powers] and belittle the people," Rohani was quoted as saying on February 24.

Rohani's ally, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, also dismissed the allegations of British meddling. "Such interpretations regarding a 'British list' [of candidates] is an insult to the Iranian people's wisdom," Rafsanjani said on February 23.

'House Cleaning'

Both Rohani and Rafsanjani are running for the Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with monitoring the performance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 76, and choosing his successor should he die or become incapacitated.

Pro-reform activists have called on voters to back an alliance of reformist and moderate candidates to provide a counterweight to hard-liners in the parliament and the Assembly of Experts.

Among those who have taken to social media to encourage Iranians to vote for moderates is Parvin Fahimi, whose son, Sohrab Arabi, was killed in the 2009 crackdown that followed the disputed reelection of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

"I will vote for the list of reformists, the list that has been endorsed by [former reformist President Mohammad] Khatami," Fahimi said in a video while holding a picture of her dead son.

The daughters of Iranian opposition figures Mir Hossein Musavi and Zahra Rahnavard have also announced that they will participate in the elections despite "pressure and shortcomings."

Musavi and his wife, Rahnavard, as well as reformist cleric Mehdi Karrubi, have been under house arrest since February 2011 for repeatedly challenging the Iranian establishment and condemning human rights abuses.

Karrubi's family has urged voters to participate in the elections to push for a "house cleaning" in the parliament and the Assembly of Experts.

Video Iranian TV Show Angers Afghans

A screen grab from the Iranian TV series Outbrea, which features a storyline about an Afghan man carrying a biologically engineered virus

Golnaz Esfandiari

A new show on Iran's state-controlled television has angered critics who say it promotes hatred against Afghan refugees living in the Islamic republic.

The show, titled Outbreak, features a storyline about an Afghan man carrying a biologically engineered virus who is sent to Iran by the United States. 

The attack will be foiled by Iran's Civil Defense Organization with the help of an astute young doctor who attempts to treat the Afghan man. 

The Civil Defense Organization, which in the past has warned about biological and cyberthreats against Iran, was reportedly involved in the production of the show, which began airing on February 20.

Some Afghans have said that Outbreak is likely to lead to increased discrimination and harassment of Afghan migrants and refugees residing in Iran, where, according to activists, they often face rights abuses. 

WATCH: An Episode Of Outbreak (in Persian, no subtitles)

There are reportedly up to 3 million Afghans living in Iran, both legally and illegally.

"This series will negatively influence public opinion. It will make people look at refugees as spies," one Facebook user wrote. 

"I am an Afghan. The show's director has not found anyone else to pick on? It's really shameful," wrote another.

Others suggested that the show could damage ties between Tehran and Kabul.

"Authorities from both countries should create bridges between the two nations and prevent these unfriendly acts," a social media user wrote. 

A group of Afghans reportedly condemned the show in a letter to the Iranian embassy in Kabul.

"It would be better if instead of creating a rift between Muslims, Iranian media would focus on emphasizing unity," the letter said, according to the BBC.

There was also criticism in Iranian domestic media, including in the hard-line Tasnim news agency, which said the series has created "grave concern" in society.

The semiofficial news agency said the show displayed a "lack of taste."

"For years divisive foreign media have been working to create distance between the people of the two countries, and now that a series is revealing the plots by occupying countries in Afghanistan, carelessness and negligence is turning it into an unpleasant event," Tasnim said.

The show's producer dismissed the criticism in a brief interview with the semiofficial, hard-line Fars news agency.

"The show's audience should not make a hasty judgement," Bijan Shirmarz told Fars on February 23.

He added that by watching the show's 12 episodes, critics will realize that Afghans have not been insulted.

"Why would we insult those we consider our brothers? We have no enmity with them," Shrimarz said.

In 2015, a children's show that aired on Iran's state television triggered protests among members of the country's large Azeri community who said the show was offensive.

The television channel later apologized for the "unintentional offense" caused by the show.

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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Seen anything in the Iranian blogosphere that you think Persian Letters should cover? If so, contact Golnaz Esfandiari at esfandiarig@rferl.org