Journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan tweeted this morning:
Iranian MP who brought a case against a cartoonist, which resulted in a sentence of 25 lashes, has withdrawn his complaint – Fars #Iran
No other details are available at the moment, but it’s clear the move was backfiring on lawmaker Ahmad Lofti Ashtiani, who brought the complaint about cartoonist Mahmoud Shokraye’s depiction of him in a soccer uniform (the Iranian government has been criticized lately for meddling in sports). Iran’s “media law” court last week sentenced Shokraye to 25 lashes, a move that has drawn a growing chorus of protest both inside and outside Iran. “Iran’s online community has taken to social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook to express anger,” the Guardian reports, and cartoonists have been calling on other cartoonists to draw even more caricatures of Ashtiani. The Guardian has a gallery of Ashtiani cartoons by Iranian and non-Iranian creators, including their own cartoonist Martin Rowson’s depiction of him as a big baby.
Eurasia Review quotes prominent Iranian cartoonist Masooud Shojai Tabatabai, who gives a more nuanced view of the situation in Iran:
He called the sentence “very heavy” and added: “All this happens while cartoons of government officials have been accepted with great tolerance.”
He added that cartoonists are aware of the red lines they cannot cross and they will never make religious and moral issues a subject of their sketches, but he added that “if a cartoonist cannot draw a simple image of a member of parliament, then how can he be a cartoonist?”
Yet this case is a reminder that the principle of freedom of speech is not taken for granted in other countries as it is in the United States. The Guardian quotes one of Ashtiani’s fellow MPs, Esmail Kowsari, who told a journalist, “[A cartoonist] should be persecuted if the cartoon is not ordinary and ridicules someone … Any crime has its own punishment, including lashing, imprisonment or being fined.”