France-Iran Relations Strained Over Ayatollah Cartoons Row, Regime Executions

Fayçal Benhassain | January 10, 2023 | 5:14pm EST
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Iranians angered by the cartoons demonstrate against France outside the French Embassy in Tehran this week. (Photo by Atta Kenare / AFP via Getty Images)
Iranians angered by the cartoons demonstrate against France outside the French Embassy in Tehran this week. (Photo by Atta Kenare / AFP via Getty Images)

Paris ( – Relations between France and Iran have hit more turbulent waters than usual, with Paris deploring the regime’s execution of more protestors as Iran continues to condemn the publication in France of a series of cartoons lampooning Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian regime supporters rallied outside the French Embassy in Tehran and in the Shi’ite holy city of Qom this week, burning French flags and pledging support for Khamenei. Some chanted slogans including “France, abandon your hostility!” and “Shame on France!”

The regime’s response to the cartoons, published by the satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, included the shutdown of a French institution in Iran, with further steps promised. The French Research Institute in Iran, affiliated to the French foreign ministry, is the oldest and most important French center of its kind in the country,.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said freedom of speech should not be used as a pretext to insult religious figures.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has launched a diplomatic campaign, seeking support from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Islamic countries in the face of what the regime says is an insult to “sanctities” and to Iran’s national and religious values.

His French counterpart, Catherine Colonna, accused Iran of “bad politics.”

“In France, not only does freedom of the press exist – unlike what happens in Iran – it is also exercised under the control of judges and an independent justice system, which is something that Iran undoubtedly knows little about,” she told the LCI TV channel. “Also in French law we do not have the notion of blasphemy.”

Colonna broadened the criticism of the regime, pointing to its detention of foreigners and the crackdown on protests that began in September after a young women died in the custody of the “morality police” after being arrested for improper hijab dress.

“Iran is not only practicing violence against its own people but is also practicing a policy of keeping people hostage, which is particularly shocking,” she said.

Charlie Hebdo published the cartoons in a special edition meant to show support to Iranians protesting against the clerical regime.

France has strict hate speech laws that criminalize discriminatory comments or those inciting violence against racial or religious groups. But it does not have “blasphemy” laws that impose limits on what can be said or depicted about religions or religious figures.

There has not been much reaction to the cartoon controversy from French lawmakers.

Nathalie Loiseau, a member of the European Parliament and former French minister for European affairs, said the Iranian regime’s reaction constituted a “threat” to Charlie Hebdo.

“Let it be perfectly clear: the repressive and theocratic regime in Tehran has nothing to teach France,” she tweeted.

Clémentine Autain, a member of the House from the leftist Rebellious France movement, voiced her support for the magazine.

“I defend the right to caricature, to freedom of the press,” she told the BFM TV channel. “It’s part of democracy and freedom.”

(Photo by Atta Kenare / AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by Atta Kenare / AFP via Getty Images)

Autain also strongly condemned the most recent executions carried out by the Iranian regime. Two men, Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini, were executed on Saturday, bringing the total number of executions linked to the protests to four. Three new death sentences were announced this week.

Karami and Hosseini were accused of killing a regime militiamen during the protests, and convicted of “enmity against Allah.” Critics say the trials are rushed and unfair. Iranian NGOs say confessions are obtained under torture.

“I am shocked by these executions of Iranians, often very young people who fight for democracy for the freedom of their country,” she said. “And they pay for this commitment with their lives.”

Autain said the French government has not done enough “to stop the repression in Iran.”

“I heard President Emmanuel Macron saying that strong measures have to be taken. But what did he do? Nothing.”

The French government has spoken out against the executions.

“France deplores the announcement of additional death sentences handed down by Iranian courts following the outrageous executions of two protesters on January 7,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “France has denounced these sentences and executions repeatedly, publicly and directly with the Iranian authorities.”

France said that it, together with its E.U. partners, calls on the regime to “halt these executions and heed the Iranian people’s legitimate aspirations.”

See also:

Iran Warns France of a ‘Decisive and Effective Response’ to Cartoons Insulting the Ayatollah (Jan. 5, 2023)

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