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IRI authorities censor political advertisements pertaining to tomorrow’s presidential election

(June 13, 2013) -- The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) has learned that significant portions of the second documentary film produced by the campaign of Hassan Rowhani, the remaining moderate/reformist presidential candidate in tomorrow’s presidential election were censored by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the state radio and television service of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).

One of the censored scenes from Rowhani’s second campaign documentary. Credit: Hossein Dehbashi

The removed footage—which amounts to almost 11 minutes and 30 seconds—primarily features prominent reformists praising Rowhani’s skills in governance and his political record.

Pursuant to Article 65 of the IRI's Presidential Elections Law, all candidates in this month's presidential election were given airtime on IRIB in order to air two 30-minute documentaries. But based on inconsistencies between two versions of Rowhani's second documentary published on Youtube, one by the documentary filmmaker himself, and one bearing the logo of IRIB's Channel One—the latter of which aired in Iran—it is evident that five separate segments of the original were removed from the broadcast version, as follows:

1. The first two minutes and ten seconds of the original version of the documentary have been removed. The deleted footage shows two separate rallies, one outdoors, featuring Rowhani supporters singing Yar Dabestani, a revolutionary song chanted by crowds during the Revolution in 1978-79 which was then resurrected as a protest song during the protests following the disputed June 2009 presidential election. This transitions to footage of an indoor rally where Rowhani declares his candidacy "after consultation with [former Presidents] Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami." The crowd then begins chanting "Hail to Khatami, Hail to Rowhani."

Rallies wherein participants have chanted slogans in support of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi--the reformist candidates from the June 2009 election who have been held under house arrest without charges since February 2011--have faced reprisals during this election campaign. But the censorship of this footage shows that the IRI's sensitivity extends even to Mohammad Khatami, who has never faced official sanction of any sort.

2. Next, nearly a minute and a half of footage featuring four individuals praising Rowhani's leadership were erased from the broadcast version (from 3:35-4:55). In the deleted footage, Mohammad Reza Sadegh, an advisor to Hashemi Rafsanjani discusses Rowhani's similarities with Hashemi Rafsanjani, and then Hashemi Rafsanjani himself praises Rowhani as a key figure during his own presidential tenure, adding that few people are aware of how valuable he was. Next Hojjatoleslam Mahmoud Do'ai, a former conservative member of the legislature and current editor-in-chief of the newspaper Ettela'at who has joined the reformist Association of Combatant Clerics (a political grouping of which Khatami and Karroubi are members, among other reformist figures) and supported reformist and moderate figures and policies in recent years, praises Rowhani's academic achievements. This is followed by Eshaq Jahangiri, another former member of parliament, governor of Esfahan during Hashemi's administration and Minister of Mines and Industry during Khatami's administration, and prospective head of Hashemi Rafsanjani's abortive campaign this year; Jahangiri states that Rowhani's election would be a step towards moderation in politics and effective governance.

All of the four individuals whose segments were cut have connections with the political forces supporting Rowhani in the election. Hashemi Rafsanjani himself also sought to run in this month's election, but his candidacy was rejected by the IRI's Council of Guardians, which is responsible for the vetting of candidates in all elections in the IRI. 

3. Twenty seconds of footage from a speech in which Khatami describes the benefits of having Rowhani as Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, a post he held throughout Khatami's presidency, have also been deleted (17:55-18:16). 

4. Thirty seconds wherein Khatami encourages all citizens to vote for Rowhani and expresses his hope that the latter will receive enough votes in the election so that the results cannot be changed have also been censored (21:34-22:07). Hence all the footage of Khatami in the original version was censored in the broadcast version.  

5. The last seven minutes of the original were censored (22:07-29:18). The deleted footage shows people at a rally flashing the victory sign, a common gesture during both the Revolution of 1978-79 and the 2009 post-election protests, and displaying the color violet, Rowhani's campaign color. Next, Rowhani says that his administration will ensure the equality of all ethnicities in Iran, adding that the minority groups will be able to study in their own traditional languages--one of the primary demands of many ethnic rights groups and political parties. Subsequently, the original version shows a traditional Kurdish dance as Rowhani says that Iran's Kurdish region needs more jobs, which he plans to create by encouraging the region's tourism industry. Rowhani converses with an airline pilot. They discuss the plane which the pilot is flying, stressing that it is old. Both express hope after Rowhani is elected sanctions will be removed, allowing the IRI to purchase more modern airplanes. 

The original continues by showing a middle aged woman who wishes Rowhani success. She cries as she asks him to create more jobs and "not allow them to steal our votes." The original version next shows Rowhani in the central city of Shiraz declaring that the state is not sovereign over its citizens and that the government knows that the youth desire freedom. Rowhani stresses that Iranian females are chaste and modest themselves, and that the state should not harass them, after which the audience begins chanting a demand that the government “free the political prisoners”, to which Rowhani responds that he will lobby the authorities and to do away with the current political atmosphere. It ends with Rowhani asking his supporters that each ask ten more people to come and vote.

The deleted scenes were replaced with longer interviews with ordinary citizens than the original features, and extended footage of Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, the commander-in-chief of the IRI's traditional military, and Ali Torkan, a former minister of defense, as well as some scenes from Rowhani's first film. 

The censorship of Rowhani's campaign documentary contravenes the IRI's international treaty obligations and likely violates its own constitution. Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which the IRI is a signatory, enshrines "the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice." 

As the IRI’s state broadcasting service censored political discourse internally, several Persian-language news sites from outside the country that have been critical of the IRI were hacked by a group known as “Unknown Cyber Jihad” and many staff from the BBC’s Persian service reported the exertion of pressure on their relatives residing in Iran.

Although Article 65 of the IRI's Presidential Election Law places "the responsibility for the organization and sequence" of political advertisements on IRIB to an Advertisement Evaluation Commission, the meaning of "organization and sequence" is unclear. Article 24 of the Constitution of the IRI ensures freedom of expression in the press and Article 175 states that freedom of expression on state broadcasting will only be infringed upon if in violation of "Islamic criteria and the best interests of the country." No sources have addressed how the eleven minutes and thirty seconds that were removed from Rowhani's second documentary violated either tenet.


The censored version of Rowhani's second campaign documentary that was aired by IRIB. Click here for the original version.

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Free Association, Election-2013, Free Speech