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Iranian Presidential Candidates Accuse State TV of Censorship, Unethical Behavior


Iranian presidential candidate Hassan Rohani used an interview on state television to criticize the broadcaster.
Iranian presidential candidate and former top nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani has accused the country’s state-controlled broadcaster of unethical behavior and lies.

He voiced the criticism on May 27 during his first television interview as a candidate with Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), during which he defended his past performance as nuclear negotiator and rejected accusations that he had been too soft in dealings with the West.

Rohani, who was Iran’s nuclear envoy from 2003 to 2005 and is considered a moderate, suggested that the interviewer, or people at the station behind the scenes, were "illiterate."

He made the comment in response to a question by the interviewer, who said Rohani had presided over a suspension of Iran’s nuclear program.

"What you said is a lie, you know it yourself it’s a lie," said a smiling Rohani.

He continued, "We suspended the program? We completed the technology. When I say ‘we,’ I don’t mean me, I mean our nuclear scientists."

During another part of the interview, Rohani, who currently heads the Center for Strategic Research, claimed state television has a history of unfairness in its programs and has defamed prominent figures.

"I know many, many of those who were lashed in the shah’s prisons, many who were close aides to the imam," he said in a reference to the founder of Iran's Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. "They were insulted by state television, but state television did not behave justly."

IRIB is notorious for its biased coverage of news and current affairs. It is watched by millions of Iranians inside and outside the country.

The radio and television station, which is under the direct control of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his allies, has been criticized in the past for not giving airtime to critics and others who are not in-line with the clerical establishment.

It has also been accused of being a tool of state intelligence and airing "forced confessions" by activists that are reportedly often made under duress.

'Inappropriate' Editing

The interview with Rohani, which was aired live, was a rare instance of IRIB being criticized on its own airwaves.

Last week, the website of another presidential candidate, Mohsen Rezai, reported that parts of his first campaign-related television interview with the station had been censored.
Mohsen Rezai
Mohsen Rezai

According to the report, Rezai, who was speaking about unemployment, described meeting a father who had lost three sons in the Iran-Iraq War. Rezai said the man had complained that his five university-educated children were unemployed and that he was facing a difficult time making ends meet.

The man told Rezai that if his problems were not solved in the near future he would commit suicide.

"By telling this story, Rezai wanted to warn his audience about unemployment and how it was affecting different segments of society, including a father who had offered his three sons to Iran," Rezai's website wrote. "This warning was not allowed to be aired by state television."

Rezai’s comments about discrimination in some Iranian provinces were also reportedly censored.

On May 26, Hasan Rasouli, a spokesman for reformist presidential candidate Mohammad Reza Aref, said his campaign appearance was cut off by state television in an "inappropriate" manner.

Rasouli said the program, which was aimed at Iranians outside the country, had been prerecorded and received broadcast approval.

Later, a state television official, Mohammad Toluoei, said technical difficulties were to blame.

He said the program had been aired to Iranians in the United States and Asia but that Iranians in Europe had not been able to watch it.

He also said Aref’s entire appearance would be rebroadcast on May 31.

UN Criticizes Tehran

A group of independent human rights experts from the United Nations on May 29 voiced concern about the mass disqualification of potential candidates in the election, particularly of all 30 women who applied.

"This mass disqualification including that of women wishing to stand in the presidential elections is discriminatory and violates fundamental right to political participation, and runs contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified," the UN statement quoted the organization's special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, as saying in a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights release.

"Any restrictions on this right must be based on objective and reasonable criteria without distinction of any kind, including race, gender, religion, and political or other opinion," Shaheed added.

The UN's special rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, was quoted in the same release as urging Iran's government to release imprisoned journalists and put an end to threats and persecution, saying such threats "seriously undermine the inclusiveness and fairness of the electoral process."
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.