Iran-France relations sour over Charlie Hebdo cartoons

On Friday (AEDT) there was a heavy security presence around the institute and the nearby French embassy in central Tehran. Graffiti left on the outside walls – apparently by government supporters – labeled France the “home of homosexuals” and “a place of blasphemy”.

Charlie Hebdo has a long history of publishing vulgar cartoons that mock Islamists and that critics say deeply offend Muslims. In the 2015 attack, two French-born al Qaeda extremists attacked the newspaper’s office, killing 12 cartoonists, and it has been the target of other attacks over the years.


The latest issue features the winners of a recent cartoon contest in which contestants were asked to draw the most obnoxious caricatures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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

Colonna accused Iran of engaging in “bad policies”.

Iran “not only engages in violence against its own people, but also practices a policy of holding people hostage, which is particularly shocking,” she said on LCI television.

“In France, freedom of the press not only exists – unlike in Iran – it is also exercised under the control of judges and an independent judicial system, of which Iran undoubtedly knows little. In French law, too, we do not have the concept of blasphemy.”

She did not respond directly to the ambassador’s subpoena or specifically defend herself Charlie Hebdo. While the French government has defended freedom of expression, it has in the past blamed the privately owned magazine for stoking tensions.

Iran has been gripped by nationwide protests for nearly four months after the death in mid-September of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman arrested by vice squads for violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

Women have taken the lead in the protests, with many taking off the obligatory Islamic headscarf in public. The protesters have called for the overthrow of ruling clerics in one of the greatest challenges to their rule since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought them to power.


Charlie Hebdo, which has published similarly offensive cartoons about dead child migrants, virus victims, neo-Nazis, popes, Jewish leaders and other public figures, presents itself as an advocate for democracy and free speech. But with often sexually explicit caricatures targeting just about anyone, the boundaries of France’s hate speech laws are routinely flouted.

The newspaper drew fire for reprinting cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed originally published by a Danish magazine in 2005. These cartoons were considered sacrilegious and deeply hurtful to Muslims worldwide. Islamist groups around the world organized demonstrations, many of which turned violent, as well as boycotts of Danish products.

AP, Reuters Iran-France relations sour over Charlie Hebdo cartoons

Callan Tansill

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