After the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran accused France’s government of insulting the Islamic Republic’s “religious sanctities” and violating international law.
“Charlie Hebdo cartoons are not only an insult against religious sanctities of the Iranian nation, but they were an affront to the position of women in the society,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanani, said during a weekly press briefing on January 9.
“We are sorry that this magazine is published in a country which claim[s] to be respecting the values and supporting the rights of others, but it fails to stand by the most obvious principles and bases that govern the international law.”
The claim is false. France’s independent press is proof of its adherence to international law, given that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 19 reads: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Charlie Hebdo is an independent magazine that routinely depicts world leaders, policymakers, financial magnates, show business stars, and historic and religious figures of various faiths in satirical and often controversial cartoons, French government officials and public personalities included.
According to Charlie Hebdo’s director, “Riss” Laurent Sourisseau, the magazine published cartoons of the ayatollah on January 4, in honor of its 12 colleagues, including eight cartoonists, assassinated in a January 7, 2015, attack on the publication’s office in Paris.
“It was one way of showing our support for the Iranian men and women risking their lives to defend their freedom against the theocracy oppressing them since 1979,” Sourisseau wrote in an editorial.
Asked about the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s comments, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said that “freedom of expression is a value, it is a universal right that we protect, we uphold, we promote the world over, whether that’s in France, whether that’s in Iran, whether that’s anywhere in between.”
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Iran should look at what is going on at home before criticizing her nation.
"Let's remember that in France press freedom exists contrary to what's happening in Iran and that this (freedom) is overseen by a judge within the framework of an independent judiciary, which is something that Iran without doubt doesn't know well," she said, adding that there were no blasphemy laws in France,” the Reuters news agency quoted Colonna as saying on January 5.
Iran has been facing growing international criticism for repression against protesters taking part in mass rallies that erupted in September after the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, while in the custody of the morality police for allegedly failing to properly cover her hair with a hijab.
The regime has forcibly cracked down on protesters demanding basic rights and freedoms. Hundreds have been killed, allegedly by the police, while thousands have detained and arrested. Some of those have been sentenced to death and executed.
Around 40 Iranian journalists have been imprisoned for covering the protests.
In December, Iran was expelled from the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women for “systematic oppression” of women's rights.
In 2020, Ayatollah Khamenei said that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad “revealed the hatred and hostility” of the “Western world” against Islam.
Many Muslims consider such depictions of the prophet as blasphemous.
In 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strongman in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, organized mass protests in his capital city of Grozny, threatening to punish Charlie Hebdo for its cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.