By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
A new show on Iran's state-controlled television has angered critics who say it promotes hatred against Afghan refugees living in the Islamic republic.
The show, titled Outbreak, features a storyline about an Afghan man carrying a biologically engineered virus who is sent to Iran by the United States.
The attack will be foiled by Iran's Civil Defense Organization with the help of an astute young doctor who attempts to treat the Afghan man.
The Civil Defense Organization, which in the past has warned about biological and cyberthreats against Iran, was reportedly involved in the production of the show, which began airing on February 20.
Some Afghans have said that Outbreak is likely to lead to increased discrimination and harassment of Afghan migrants and refugees residing in Iran, where, according to activists, they often face rights abuses.
WATCH: An Episode Of Outbreak (in Persian, no subtitles)
There are reportedly up to 3 million Afghans living in Iran, both legally and illegally.
"This series will negatively influence public opinion. It will make people look at refugees as spies," one Facebook user wrote.
"I am an Afghan. The show's director has not found anyone else to pick on? It's really shameful," wrote another.
Others suggested that the show could damage ties between Tehran and Kabul.
"Authorities from both countries should create bridges between the two nations and prevent these unfriendly acts," a social media user wrote.
A group of Afghans reportedly condemned the show in a letter to the Iranian embassy in Kabul.
"It would be better if instead of creating a rift between Muslims, Iranian media would focus on emphasizing unity," the letter said, according to the BBC.
There was also criticism in Iranian domestic media, including in the hard-line Tasnim news agency, which said the series has created "grave concern" in society.
The semiofficial news agency said the show displayed a "lack of taste."
"For years divisive foreign media have been working to create distance between the people of the two countries, and now that a series is revealing the plots by occupying countries in Afghanistan, carelessness and negligence is turning it into an unpleasant event," Tasnim said.
The show's producer dismissed the criticism in a brief interview with the semiofficial, hard-line Fars news agency.
"The show's audience should not make a hasty judgement," Bijan Shirmarz told Fars on February 23.
He added that by watching the show's 12 episodes, critics will realize that Afghans have not been insulted.
"Why would we insult those we consider our brothers? We have no enmity with them," Shrimarz said.
In 2015, a children's show that aired on Iran's state television triggered protests among members of the country's large Azeri community who said the show was offensive.
The television channel later apologized for the "unintentional offense" caused by the show.
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