(Reuters) -Iran's Supreme Leader said on Friday some of the candidates rejected from this month's presidential election had been "wronged" and unfairly maligned online, though the vote watchdog said its original decision to bar them still held.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on Iran's affairs, last month endorsed the watchdog's rejection of several prominent moderate and conservative candidates for the June 18 vote, including former parliament speaker Ali Larijani.
On Friday, Khamenei said some of the disqualified candidates had been treated unfairly during the vetting process.
"Some candidates were wronged. They were accused of untrue things that were unfortunately spread throughout the internet too. Protecting people's honour is one of the most important issues. I call on the responsible bodies to restore their honour," he said in a televised speech.
Several of the rejected candidates had faced attacks online, with some social media posters accusing them of having close relatives living in "hostile" Western countries.
Immediately after Khamenei's statement, one leading moderate candidate - former central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati - tweeted that he hoped some of the rejected politicians would now be reinstated.
But the Guardian Council vote body soon after said its decision to ban the candidates had not been affected by any rumours against them, and the prohibitions still stood.
"While emphasizing the preservation of the dignity of individuals and condemning the desecration of the candidates and their families, the Council urges media outlets to respect confidentiality," it said.
The decision to ban the candidates boosted the prospects of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, an ally of Khamenei, though it may also dent the clerical rulers' hopes of a high turnout amid discontent over an economy crippled by U.S. sanctions.
Iranian voters will have a choice between seven candidates - five hardliners and two low-key moderates - in the election. Pragmatist incumbent President Hassan Rouhani is legally barred from running for a third term.
The election is likely to reinforce Khamenei's authority at home at a time when Tehran and six powers are trying to revive their 2015 nuclear deal Washington exited three years ago.
Allies of Khamenei have placed the responsibility for Iran's economic problems squarely on the government and said that Washington cannot be trusted to fulfil any accord.
(Editing by Alison Williams, Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Heavens)