DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – A controversial Iranian television spy thriller is again causing a stir in the Islamic Republic, drawing the wrath of government officials and complaints from viewers on Sunday over alleged censorship in the season two finale.
The fictional series with the title “Gando” traces the heroic deeds of the agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – in the style of James Bond or Jason Bourne.
Hardliners and other fans of the show accuse the government of having pulled the second season prematurely out of thin air, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported. When uncut scenes surfaced on Aparat.com, an Iranian version of YouTube, on Sunday, speculation arose on social media about possible government censorship. The clips showed that the episodes aired last week had changed the dialogue to replace the mentions of “the President” with “an official”.
Season one hit the headlines depicting Iranian intelligence officials battling an American super spy who bears a remarkable resemblance to Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian. Before Rezaian was released on a prisoner swap in 2016, he spent 18 months in an Iranian prison on charges of espionage, which he and American officials denied.
The show, which values the Iranian hardliners and portrays the Iranian Foreign Ministry as incompetent, has long caused consternation among the relative moderates in the government. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif used the popular audio chat app Clubhouse last week to scold season two, calling it a “lie from start to finish”. When the first season aired in the summer of 2019, Zarif sent an official letter of protest to the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In the second season of 13 episodes, which airs during Iran’s 13-day Nowruz or New Year holiday, Iranian intelligence agents take on Western spies trying to infiltrate the Iranian government and divulge confidential information about nuclear negotiations as part of a crippling U.S. Collect business pressure campaign.
In keeping with the spirit of the show’s heroic video game fantasy inspired by real events, a character resembling the prominent exiled journalist Ruhollah Zam, kidnapped in Iraq last December and executed in Iran, makes one in season two Cameo. One of the treacherous diplomats on the show is believed to be modeled after two of Zarif’s MPs in talks with the US over Iran’s nuclear program.
During his two seasons, Gando has “reversed realities … and exposed a divide 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 have been roughly edited, and the finale ended strangely abruptly, causing criticism of possible government interference with the series.
An adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, Hesameddin Ashena, promised the government did not interfere with the show or press for it to be canceled.
The allegations came after Iran and the administration of US President Biden announced that the countries would start indirect negotiations in Vienna this week on how to restore Iran’s ragged nuclear program in 2015 with the world powers. Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal almost three years ago and imposed unprecedented sanctions on Iran.
Iranian hardline newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz published a cover story on Sunday criticizing Iranian diplomats for agreeing to negotiate with the US over the country’s nuclear program.
The headline was in big, bold letters: “Will Gando Season 3 be in Vienna?”
Associate press writer Amir Vahdat from Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.
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