Iran Shuts Down Newspaper Over Cartoon depicting Azeri as cockroach

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 24 18:49:43 UTC 2006

>>From the NYTimes, May 24, 2006

Iran Shuts Down Newspaper Over Cartoon

TEHRAN, May 23 The government shut down one of its official newspapers on
Tuesday for publishing a cartoon that mocked Iran's Azeri minority and led
to riots in northwestern cities. The government Press Supervisory Board
shut down the daily newspaper Iran because the cartoon was "divisive and
provocative," state television reported. The newspaper is published by the
official IRNA news agency and is among the country's most popular and
influential newspapers. The cartoon, published Friday, showed a boy
repeating the Persian word for cockroach in different ways, while a
cockroach in front of the boy asked "What?" in Turkish Azeri.

It was drawn by a well-known cartoonist, Mana Neyestani, who was arrested
Tuesday. The newspaper's editor in chief, Mehrdad Qasemfar, was also
arrested, and both were sent to Evin prison to await trial, Tehran's chief
prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, told state television on Tuesday. State
television said the newspaper had been shut down indefinitely, but
reporters at other Iranian newspapers said the journalists at Iran planned
to go back to work on Wednesday because they did not expect it to be
closed for long. The paper's publication was suspended for a day five
years ago under President Mohammad Khatami, at a time when the judiciary
was cracking down on reformist newspapers. The cartoon set off some of the
worst ethnic protests in northwestern Iran since the revolution in 1979.
That part of the country is where a majority of Azeri Turks live, and
students there staged demonstrations in Ardebil, Zanjan, Tabriz, Orumieh
and several smaller cities. The protests reached their height on Tuesday,
and while there were no reports of injuries, the main bazaars in Tabriz
and Orumieh were closed early this week.

The semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency reported that thousands
protested in downtown Tabriz on Monday and pelted the governor's office
with stones. After several hours, the police used tear gas to disperse the
crowd, it said. Some 54 people were arrested, the Iranian Student News
Agency reported. The minister of culture and Islamic guidance, Mohammad
Hussein Saffar-Harandi, appeared on television on Monday to apologize for
the cartoon. But an Azeri member of Parliament, Eshrat Shaeq, said the
apology came too late, adding that she was collecting signatures to
impeach the minister. Other ethnic minorities, including Arabs, Kurds and
Baluchis, have staged protests in the past year as political dissent in
the nation has risen.

Hamidreza Jalaipour, a professor of sociology at Tehran University, said
the cartoon was only an excuse for the protests. "The cartoon could not
have been the only reason for the protests," he said. "People are unhappy
with political and social conditions. "The intellectuals have been
alienated, and the new management is not capable of dealing with such
circumstances," he added, referring to the administration of President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took office last August. Azeri Turks make up a
quarter of Iran's population. Jokes about Turks, Jews and other minorities
are common, but they are rarely published in official media.

Students held demonstrations at four major universities in Tehran on
Tuesday, but each protest was for a different reason. Demonstrations are
expected to continue Wednesday.

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