Iran announced on Thursday the closure of a Tehran-based French research institute in protest against cartoons of the Islamic republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
The magazine printed the caricatures in support of months of protests in Iran as part of a special edition to mark the anniversary of the deadly 2015 attack on its Paris office which left 12 people dead, including some of its best known cartoonists.
“The ministry is ending the activities of the French Institute for Research (IFRI) in Iran as a first step,” the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement, a day after Tehran had warned Paris of consequences.
The French government must hold responsible “the authors of such hatred”, it added, also calling for “a serious fight against anti-Islamism and Islamophobia” in France.
Iran has been shaken by over three months of protests triggered by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, an Iranian Kurd who was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women.
It has responded with a crackdown that Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights said has killed at least 476 people in protests, which Iranian officials generally describe as “riots”.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in response that “the insulting and indecent act of a French publication in publishing cartoons against the religious and political authority will not go without an effective and decisive response”.
Iran’s foreign ministry also summoned French ambassador Nicolas Roche on Wednesday.
“France has no right to insult the sanctities of other Muslim countries and nations under the pretext of freedom of expression,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said.
IFRI, affiliated with the French foreign ministry, is a historical and archeological institute founded in 1983 after the merger of the French Archaeological Delegation in Iran and the French Institute of Iranology in Tehran.
Located in the centre of Tehran, it had been 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.
‘Show our support’
Charlie Hebdo, seen by supporters as a champion of freedom of speech and by critics as needlessly provocative, has a style that is controversial even within France.
But the country was united in grief when in January 2015 the magazine was targeted in a deadly attack by gunmen who claimed to be avenging the weekly’s decision to publish blasphemous sketches of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).
The latest issue contained a variety of sexual images depicting Khamenei and fellow clerics. Other cartoons pointed to the authorities’ use of capital punishment as a tactic to quell the protests.
Charlie Hebdo’s Director Laurent Sourisseau, known as Riss, wrote in an editorial the cartoons are “a way to show our support for Iranian men and women who risk their lives to defend their freedom against the theocracy that has oppressed them since 1979”.
Before the announcement of the institute’s closure, French foreign minister Catherine Colonna had said that “freedom of the press exists (in France) contrary to what is happening in Iran”, and stressed that the offence of blasphemy does not exist in French law.
“The bad policy is the one followed by Iran, which commits violence against its own population,” she added on French television channel LCI.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price, asked about the row on Wednesday, had said the United States stood “on the side of freedom of expression” whether “that’s in France, whether that’s in Iran, whether that’s anywhere in between”.
Khamenei, the successor of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is appointed for life. Above day-to-day politics, criticism of him is prohibited inside Iran.