Iran closes French institute to protest Khamenei cartoons
January 5, 2023 04:43 PM
Iran announced Thursday the closure of a Tehran-based French research institute in protest against cartoons of the Islamic republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
"The ministry is ending the activities of the French Institute for Research in Iran as a first step," the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement, a day after Tehran had warned Paris of consequences.
Iran has been shaken by over three months of protests triggered by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, an Iranian Kurd who was arrested for allegedly violating the country's strict dress code for women.
It has responded with a crackdown that Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights said has killed at least 476 people in protests, which Iranian officials generally describe as "riots".
Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday published the caricatures of Khamenei in support of the protests, in a special edition to mark the anniversary of the deadly 2015 attack on its Paris office which left 12 people dead, including some of its best known cartoonists.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian tweeted in response that "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".
Iran's foreign ministry also summoned French ambassador Nicolas Roche on Wednesday.
"France has no right to insult the sanctities of other Muslim countries and nations under the pretext of freedom of expression," foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said.
IFRI, affiliated with the French foreign ministry, is a historical and archeological institute founded in 1983 after the merger of the French Archaeological Delegation in Iran and the French Institute of Iranology in Tehran.
Located in the centre of Tehran, it had been closed for many years but was reopened under the 2013-2021 presidency of the moderate president Hassan Rouhani as a sign of warming bilateral relations.
- 'Show our support' -
Charlie Hebdo, seen by supporters as a champion of freedom of speech and by critics as needlessly provocative, has a style that is controversial even within France.
But the country was united in grief when in January 2015 it was targeted in a deadly attack by Islamist gunmen who claimed to be avenging the magazine's decision to publish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.
The latest issue contained a variety of sexual images depicting Khamenei and fellow clerics. Other cartoons pointed to the authorities' use of capital punishment as a tactic to quell the protests.
Charlie Hebdo's director Laurent Sourisseau, known as Riss, wrote in an editorial the cartoons are "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".
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price, asked about the row on Wednesday, said the United States stood "on the side of freedom of expression" whether "that's in France, whether that's in Iran, whether that's anywhere in between".
Khamenei, the successor of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is appointed for life. Above day-to-day politics, criticism of him is prohibited inside Iran.
Khomeini in 1989 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 Satanic Verses".
Many activists blamed Iran last year when the writer was stabbed at an event in New York but Tehran denied any link.