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Iranian Media Warned to Avoid Mention of Opposition Leaders

(L-R) Iranian opposition leaders: Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami (2009 file photo)

(L-R) Iranian opposition leaders: Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami (2009 file photo)

Iran's official Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which oversees media in the Islamic Republic, is reported to have demanded Iranian media outlets stop mentioning opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami on the air or in print.

Iranian opposition sources, opposition websites, and Britain's The Guardian newspaper are reporting the country's top media organ has warned the press not to publish the names or pictures of three top opposition figures. The ban reportedly includes Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and former president Mohammad Khatami.

Mousavi and Karroubi ran in last year's disputed presidential election in which incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor. Mousavi, who claimed to have won the election, complained of widespread voter fraud, and called unsuccessfully for a new vote.

The opposition Irangreenvoice website published a copy of the allegedly secret memorandum to the Iranian press, announcing the ban. It stressed that security officials desired to maintain calm inside the country, and that the media was responsible for doing so.

Iran witnessed weeks of unrest, including massive street protests, last year, by opposition activists following the presidential election.

Former Iranian president Abolhassan Bani Sadr, who lives in exile in Paris, says President Ahmadinejad was personally responsible for the press ban on the three men.

He says Mr. Ahmadinejad personally asked Iran's National Security Council to prohibit the press from publishing the names, declarations and positions of Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami, but that the council refused. Mr. Ahmadinejad, he says, then went to his Information Minister, who published the secret communiqué forbidding mention of the three men in the press.

Bani Sadr says the ban does not prohibit the Iranian press from "insulting the three men or accusing them of hatching foreign-inspired plots against the government." Iranian newspapers, he notes, "still continue to publish insults against him, personally" despite his nearly 30 years in exile.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei continues to refer to the three top opposition leaders as the organizers of sedition. Iranian TV also uses that term to describe them.

Former Iranian diplomat and London-based analyst Mehrdad Khonsari says the Iranian regime is trying to deliberately ignore the three men, turning them into "non-persons".

"They have not said anything complimentary about them in any publication in the course of the last year, since the election," he said. "So, what they are trying to do - and this is something that they have been discussing - is the fact that if you ignore them, you are trying to say that these are non-persons and they are irrelevant. That is the strategy."

Former president Bani Sadr insists the three opposition leaders still enjoy strong popularity inside Iran, according to internal polls that he has seen. Khonsari agrees the Iranian public continues to sympathize with the men, but that some have become disenchanted with their handling of the opposition movement, as well as their recent positions.