Charlie Hebdo cartoons spark protests outside Iran's French embassy

Rallies were held in Tehran and Qom against caricatures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iranian demonstrators hold posters of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei while protesting in front of the French embassy in Tehran on Sunday against offensive caricatures in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. AP
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Dozens of Iranians protesting against cartoons of the the country's supreme leader by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo gathered outside the French embassy in Tehran on Sunday.

On Wednesday, the magazine published caricatures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to support the protests in Iran, sparked by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini after her arrest for wearing her headscarf "inappropriately".

Iran has warned France over the "insulting and indecent" cartoons, which appeared in a special edition to mark the anniversary of the deadly 2015 attack on the magazine's Paris offices.

Dozens of demonstrators, most of them religious seminary students, gathered in front of the embassy in the centre of the capital Tehran and set fire to French flags, AFP reported.

"France, be ashamed," the crowd chanted.

Waving Iranian flags, they held pictures of Mr Khamenei and signs reading, "I will sacrifice my life for the leader", and "Shame on Charlie Hebdo".

"I came to support my revolution, my leader," said seminary student Karim Heydarpour, 17.

Similar pro-government rallies were held in Iran's city of Qom, 128 kilometres south of Tehran, the state broadcaster reported.

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Iranian authorities call the months-long protests in the country "riots" and accuse foreign countries and opposition groups of stoking the unrest.

On Sunday evening, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the publication of the cartoons, state news agency Irna reported.

"Resorting to insult and offence under the pretext of freedom is a clear evidence of the absurdity of the logic of those who insult, and their disappointment at the non-fruition of the conspiracy of chaos and insecurity in the country," Mr Raisi said.

Earlier in the day, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said freedom of speech should not be used as a pretext for "insulting" religion.

France "has no right to justify insulting the sanctities of other countries and nations and followers of divine religions under the pretext of freedom of speech", he said on Twitter.

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Paris should observe the "fundamental principles of international relations — namely mutual respect [and] non-interference in the internal affairs of others", Mr Kanani said.

On Thursday, Iran said it was closing the Tehran-based French Institute for Research in Iran "as a first step" in response to the cartoons, after summoning the French ambassador to protest against the publication.

The IFRI in the centre of Tehran was 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.

Updated: January 08, 2023, 11:09 PM