Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Iran warns France over ‘insulting’ cartoons depicting supreme leader Ali Khamenei

Thursday 05/January/2023 - 02:49 PM
The Reference

Iran has summoned the French ambassador over publication of caricatures of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The weekly magazine published dozens of cartoons ridiculing the highest religious and political figure in the Islamic republic as part of a competition it launched in December in support of the protest movement that began in Iran last September.

Later on Wednesday, Iran’s foreign ministry said it had summoned the French ambassador, Nicolas Roche.

“France has no right to insult the sanctities of other Muslim countries and nations under the pretext of freedom of expression,” said a foreign ministry spokesperson, Nasser Kanani. “Iran is waiting for the French government’s explanation and compensatory action in condemning the unacceptable behaviour of the French publication.”

The foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, tweeted: “The insulting and indecent act of a French publication in publishing cartoons against the religious and political authority will not go without an effective and decisive response.”

Without spelling out the consequences, he added: “We will not allow the French government to go beyond its bounds. They have definitely chosen the wrong path.”

Seen by supporters as a champion of freedom of speech and by critics as needlessly provocative, Charlie Hebdo is controversial even within France. But the country was united in grief when in January 2015 the magazine was targeted in a deadly attack by Islamist gunmen who claimed to be avenging the decision to publish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

Charlie Hebdo’s latest issue features the winners of a recent cartoon contest in which entrants were asked to draw the most offensive caricatures of Khamenei, who has held Iran’s highest office since 1989.

One of the finalists depicts a turbaned cleric reaching for a hangman’s noose as he drowns in blood, while another shows Khamenei clinging to a giant throne above the raised fists of protesters. Others depict more vulgar and sexually explicit scenes.

“It was a way to show our support for Iranian men and women who risk their lives to defend their freedom against the theocracy that has oppressed them since 1979,” Charlie Hebdo’s director, Laurent Sourisseau, known as Riss, wrote in an editorial.

All the cartoons published had “the merit of defying the authority that the supposed supreme leader claims to be, as well as the cohort of his servants and other henchmen”, he added.

Nathalie Loiseau, a French MEP and former minister loyal to France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, described Iran’s response as an “interference attempt and threat” to Charlie Hebdo. “Let it be perfectly clear, the repressive and theocratic regime in Tehran has nothing to teach France,” she said.


Khamenei, the successor of the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is appointed for life. Above day-to-day politics, criticism of him is prohibited inside Iran.

In 1989, Khomeini famously issued a religious decree, or fatwa, ordering Muslims to kill the British author Salman Rushdie for what he deemed the blasphemous nature of the writer’s novel The Satanic Verses. Many activists blamed Iran last year when Rushdie was stabbed at an event in New York, but Tehran denied any link.

The Iranian regime has been shaken by three months of protests triggered by the death in custody on 16 September 2022 of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurd who was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women. It has responded with a crackdown that the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights says has killed at least 476 people taking part in protests. Iranian officials generally have described the protests as riots.

Charlie Hebdo published the caricatures in a special edition to mark the anniversary of the deadly attack on its Paris office, which left 12 people dead, including some of its best-known cartoonists.

“Eight years later, religious intolerance has not said its last word. It continues its work in defiance of international protests and respect for the most basic human rights,” said the publication’s director.