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Iranian State-Run Newspaper Runs Unprecedented Anti-Censorship Editorial

In an unprecedented move, an Iranian government-run newspaper wrote a front page editorial in the form of a letter addressed to President Hassan Rouhani last week, condemning the Iranian government’s censorship of the media and subsequent prohibition of images and mention of former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.

The move came on behalf of Ettelaat editor Seyyed Mahmoud Doaei, according to The Wrap’s Jordan Chariton. Doaei, who is a reformist cleric, achieved several advanced degrees in theology from Iran’s Theological School in Qom, Iran, and Najaf, Iraq, in 1979. Studying in both countries for advanced theological degrees is not uncommon in Iran.

Doaei’s editorial is especially timely considering elections are just two months away (February 26, 2016), and Khatami former Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref is running for the position of speaker of the Majles, Iran’s Parliament. Khatami’s backing would garner much popular support to help Aref secure the post he is seeking.

During the February election, members will be elected to both the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles-e Shoorayee-e Islami) and the Assembly of Experts (Majles-e Khobregan e Rahbari).

The letter addressed to Rouhani appears to urge the President to stand behind the media in their intent to push the narrative about Khatami. In it, Doaei also defies the regime’s demands.

Part of the letter reads:

The esteemed prosecutor of Tehran held a meeting with a number of managing editors including myself recently, in which he demanded us not to publish articles or images relating to Hojatoleslam (an Islamic honorific title) Khatami. I told him in that very meeting that this decision is arbitrary; there is no legislation or law backing it and that Ettelaat would not accept it.

The renewed push to ban Khatami’s name from the media again, earlier this year, stems from a falling out between Khatami and members of the regime over his support for opposition leaders and former presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi around that same time. Both men have been under house arrest since 2011. These men, and other leaders of the opposition movement, are referred to by the regime as “leaders of sedition.” Although Khatami is not under house arrest, he has been barred from leaving Iran.

Khatami, who served as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran between 1997 and 2005, remains popular among the general population, and he has many supporters. The decision to ban Khatami’s name came from Iran’s judiciary, which is dominated by conservatives and hardliners operating separately from Rouhani’s government. This makes it challenging for Rouhani to influence decisions at times, as the ultimate word comes from the Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Islamic Regime of Iran Seyyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei.

This is the second time in five years that Iran’s leadership has implemented a ban on Khatami in the media, having done so in 2010, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the 2009 elections against the far more popular reformist candidate Moussavi in a landslide victory. The election was deemed rigged considering the more conservative Ahmadinejad’s unpopularity among Iran’s youth.

Ahmadinejad’s reelection sparked what has come to be known as the Green Revolution. Restrictions were relaxed on the mention of Khatami’s name again in 2013 after Rouhani won the elections that year, thanks to the backing of Khatami in that election.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz and on Facebook.

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