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Iranians say TV spy thriller partially censored by regime

Hardliners and other fans of ‘Gando,’ which valorizes Revolutionary Guards and criticizes diplomats, accuse the government of pulling the 2nd season off the air prematurely

An undated promotional handout still from the Iranian state TV series, 'Gando,' shows actor Payam Dehkordi, center, who plays a character apparently based on Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, among other actors. (Mohammad Bagheri/TV series, 'Gando,' via AP)
An undated promotional handout still from the Iranian state TV series, 'Gando,' shows actor Payam Dehkordi, center, who plays a character apparently based on Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, among other actors. (Mohammad Bagheri/TV series, 'Gando,' via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A controversial Iranian TV spy thriller is once again generating buzz in the Islamic Republic, drawing the ire of government officials and complaints from viewers Sunday over alleged censorship in the second season finale.

The fictional series, titled “Gando,” chronicles the exploits of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard agents — in the style of James Bond or Jason Bourne.

Hardliners and other fans of the show are blaming the government for pulling the second season off the air prematurely, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported. When uncut scenes surfaced Sunday on Aparat.com, an Iranian version of YouTube, speculation swirled on social media about possible government censorship. The clips showed that episodes aired last week had altered dialogue to replace mentions of “the president” with “an official.”

The first season grabbed headlines for depicting Iranian intelligence operatives combating an American super spy who bears a striking resemblance to Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian. Before being freed in a prisoner swap in 2016, Rezaian spent 18 months in an Iranian prison on charges of espionage that he and American officials denied.

US journalist Jason Rezaian waves as he poses for media people in front of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, after being released from prison in Iran, January 20, 2016. (Michael Probst/AP)

The show, which valorizes Iran’s hardliners and portrays Iran’s Foreign Ministry as inept, long has caused consternation among relative moderates in the government. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif railed against the second season on the the popular audio chat app Clubhouse last week, calling it a “lie from beginning to end.” When the first season aired in the summer of 2019, Zarif sent a formal letter of protest to the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The 13-episode second season, aired during Iran’s 13-day Nowruz, or New Year, holiday, pits Iranian intelligence agents against Western spies trying to infiltrate Iran’s government and gather confidential information about nuclear negotiations amid a crippling US economic pressure campaign.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses in a conference in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

In keeping with the show’s spirit of heroic video game fantasy inspired by real events, a character resembling prominent exiled journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was abducted in Iraq and executed in Iran last December, makes a cameo in the second season. One of the treacherous diplomats in the show is thought to be modeled on two of Zarif’s deputies in talks with the US over Iran’s nuclear program.

Over its two seasons, Gando “reversed realities… and exposed a rift in the establishment while adding differences in the ruling system,” said Tehran-based political analyst Majid Younesian.

Certain scenes in the last two episodes appeared to be crudely edited and the finale came to a strangely abrupt end, fueling criticism over possible government interference in the series.

An adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, Hesameddin Ashena, promised that the government had not disrupted the show or pressed for its cancelation.

US President Joe Biden speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, April 1, 2021. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The allegations came as Iran and US President Biden’s administration announced that the countries would start indirect negotiations this week in Vienna about how to restore Iran’s tattered 2015 nuclear program with world powers. Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord nearly three years ago and imposed unprecedented sanctions on Iran.

Iranian hardline newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz ran a front-page story Sunday criticizing Iranian diplomats for agreeing to negotiate with the US over the country’s nuclear program.

Bannered in big, bold letters was the headline: “Will Gando Season 3 be in Vienna?”

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