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“Don’t Talk of Freedom, Freedom Will Be Ashamed!” Rouhani Blasts his Rivals

President Rouhani in a campaign rally in the city of Urmia on May 7, 2017.

President Hassan Rouhani has accused his conservative Principlist challengers of censorship, a claim that came after state television reportedly redacted parts of his official campaign film that was part of his bid for reelection in the upcoming May 19 re-election.

In a speech on May 7 in the city of Urmia, northwest Iran, Rouhani took a sarcastic tone as he criticized his opponents.

“Those who cut tongues and sew lips are talking of freedom of expression and criticism,” he said, according to the Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA). “Your only expression in recent years has been the word ‘prohibition’: prohibition of pens, prohibition of images.”

“Please stop talking of freedom since freedom will be embarrassed,” Rouhani added.

He went on to dismiss his challengers’ comments on criticism as hypocrisy.

“You talk of criticism while you work for an institution where nobody dares to criticize it ever,” he said.

In a May 5 live televised presidential debate, Rouhani’s hardliner challenger Mostafa Mirsalim accused the incumbent of being intolerant of criticism.

Mirsalim, a prominent member of the extremist Islamic Coalition Party, earned himself the title of the “Press and Books Hangman” during his tenure as culture and Islamic guidance minister from 1994 to 1997.

Another conservative candidate, Ebrahim Raisi, chipped in to say Rouhani had already used 50 “offensive expressions” in response to his critics.

A mid-ranking cleric, Raisi -- who has the support of the bulk of Principlists and other conservatives -- has served in high-capacity jobs in the justice department since the start of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. He was a member of a notorious quartet who executed thousands of prisoners in 1988.

Rouhani’s other main challenger, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, was previously police chief. The student protests in summer 1998 were heavy-handedly suppressed under his commandership.

Rouhani was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years. He is also responsible for a number of suppressive security actions. Nevertheless, during his presidency he had several clashes with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

A member of the Rouhani campaign told the Associated Press that the state TV had cut several segments of his film, titled President Rouhani, shortly before his scathing remarks.

The campaign official said one of the portions cut showed Rouhani’s supporters chanting for opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi; his wife, Zahra Rahnavard; and Mehdi Karroubi, all of whom are under house arrest.

References to reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, the supreme leader’s endorsement of a nuclear deal with world powers, and the passivity of the justice department in dealing with those who attacked the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad were also redacted from the campaign film.

In retaliation, Rouhani’s campaign headquarters published some of the censored segments of the film on May 6. Immediately afterward, the spokesman for the Commission for Supervising Propaganda called it “a violation of the law,” adding that the commission is reviewing the offense.