March 27, 2021
An Iranian television espionage drama has been censored by authorities over a plotline featuring a spy working for British intelligence during sensitive nuclear deal negotiations.
A “high-ranking member of the government” intervened to prevent the episode of “Gando” being aired for 45 minutes and demanded that dialogue be changed, according to Iranian media.
The show, funded by a body linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has proved controversial at the highest levels in Iran for its thinly veiled references to real-life events; even Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has criticized its portrayal of politicians.
The series portrays military intelligence officials as heroes, while implying that their civilian counterparts and relatives are vulnerable to Western spying operations.
The episode was eventually aired three-quarters-of-an-hour late, but certain scenes appeared to have been crudely edited.
State-run news agency, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), reported that “a high-ranking member of the government had blocked the broadcast, and requested that the word ‘negotiating team’ not be included in the series.
“The sections where the word ‘negotiating team’ was used were changed and the word ‘team’ was removed from the dialogues,” it said.
The episode heavily focused on the role of British spies in Iran, and featured scenes of an MI6 agent in an office bedecked with Union flags and exterior shots of the service’s headquarters in London.
Its late broadcast appeared to be linked to the real case of Abdolrasoul Dorri-Esfahani, an Iranian diplomat and accountant accused of spying on behalf of the UK during the 2015 nuclear deal negotiations.
Dorri-Esfahani, who was part of Iran’s negotiating team during the crunch talks, was sentenced to five years in jail on espionage charges, though Mahmoud Alavi, Tehran’s intelligence minister, has insisted that he was innocent.
The present series of “Gando” features a character called Abdol Rasoul Ashrafi, a former accountant who is portrayed as working for MI6.
The latest episode also showed Iranian forces intercepting a British ship using speed boats and helicopters, a not-so-subtle reference to the Iranian hijacking of British tanker the Stena Imperio in the Strait of Hormuz in 2019.