Iran targets French government as proxy to pressure Charlie Hebdo magazine

The Iranian authorities have begun taking measures against France in response to the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdos publication of cartoons of Iran’s Supreme Leader and other Iranian mullahs, which they regard as “insulting.” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounces Tehran’s use of blackmail in an attempt to put pressure on a French media outlet.

“In its shameful pressure on the French government and its blackmail attempts in response to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, Tehran is combining a threat with a lie that pretends to think that, in France, the media cannot operate without the government’s approval, which is fortunately not the case. Cartoons of well-known persons, whether religious, political or any other kind, are allowed under French law, which complies with international law. Charlie Hebdo has only exercised its right.”

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire

RSF also regards this latest pressure as an attempt to revive the fight to criminalise “defaming religions,” which would be disastrous for press freedom. “The democracies must not cede an inch to those who want to establish the concept of defamation of religions,” Deloire added.

Charlie Hebdo’s publication on 4 January of cartoons showing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s most senior religious and political figure, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has been described by the Iranian authorities as an “insulting and indecent act”.

“We will not allow the French government to overstep the bounds,” Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote in a tweet, while a spokesman for his ministry said Iran "regards the government as responsible for this heinous, insulting and unwarranted act”. In an initial reprisal, the Iranian authorities have already announced the closure of the French Institute for Research in Iran (IFRI), the oldest and most important French study centre in the country.

Charlie Hebdo’s publication of a special “7 January” issue comes eight years after the terrorist shooting at the satirical weekly’s Paris headquarters on 7 January 2015. For this special issue, organised amid a massive wave of protests in Iran in response to Mahsa Amini’s death in September and the ensuing crackdown by the authorities, the weekly acquired dozens of cartoons by means of an international competition called “Kick out the Mullahs,” in which participants were invited to submit their “funniest and cruellest” cartoon of the Supreme Leader.

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