When it comes to free speech, Iran is famously behind the times. But even for their usual level of barbarism, this story is just ridiculous.
Before we go any further, let me pose a question to readers: If a drawing similar to the one below were done of you, would you consider it remotely offensive?
Probably not, right? It actually kind of looks like the sort of caricature you'd find being drawn at a county fair for tourists. And it's not as though the person in the drawing depicts its subject doing something embarrassing, like eating the soccer ball.
Well, apparently Iranian politicians are more easily offended than your average American. A lot more easily offended. Because this simple drawing has gotten its artist convicted of an undisclosed crime, for which he will be punished by being whipped 25 times across his back. MSNBC provides some context:
Now, Iranian cartoonist Mahmoud Shokrayeh has been sentenced to 25 lashes because he drew a caricature of Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani, a member of the Iranian parliament, wearing a soccer jersey.
One thing interesting about Shokrayeh’s cartoon is the dark skinned mark on Lotfi Ashtiani’s forehead. In Islamic countries, this is the sign of “praying too much”. Rubbing the forehead on the ground during prayer for years and years does this. You can see it on many Islamist leaders’ faces.
Last week, while attending UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day’s conference in Tunis, I noticed the Tunisian prime minister had been praying too too much. A Tunisian cartoonist present at the conference, drawing live on a pad, intentionally drew the dark mark on the prime minister’s forehead. Including this interesting religious symbol in his cartoon might have been seen by the Iranian court as insulting.
Now, Iranian cartoonists who are living outside of Iran, in solidarity with their colleague, are drawing caricatures of the insulted MP Lotfi Ashtian.
And if you're wondering why the artist drew MP Ashtian in a soccer jersey? Turns out there's a perfectly innocent explanation for that, too:
Why did Shokraiyeh draw the MP in a soccer jersey? The MP was interested in bringing soccer clubs to the city of Arak.
So let's recap - for the crime of drawing a member of parliament in a pose that suggests success at one of his signature policy initiatives, this artist is going to be lashed just because the member in question was offended. The question raised by this is obvious: Just what on earth can you draw in Iran?