Iran Arrests Editor and Journalist for Cartoon Mocking Ayatollah Khamenei

A handout picture from February 7, 2017 shows Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on stage during a meeting with air force commanders
KHAMENEI.IR/AFP/File Handout

The editor-in-chief of the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) and one of his employees were arrested last week for publishing a cartoon on social media deemed “insulting” to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

The cartoon was posted on the evening of April 23 and deleted only a few minutes later. ILNA issued a statement that night denying that the cartoon had ever been published.

“At a time when prisons are petri dishes for the COVID-19 virus, Iranian authorities should cease locking up journalists for trivial offenses like allegedly sharing a cartoon,” Sheri Mansour of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Monday.

According to Radio Free Europe (RFE), editor Masud Heydari is out on bail, but social media administrator Hamid Haghjoo is still imprisoned. No formal charges appear to have been filed against either of them yet, but an “investigation” is underway:

“Immediately after the publishing of the insulting image, it was ordered to be removed from the channel,” Alghasi Mehr was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

“The [person in charge] of ILNA and the administrator of the Telegram channel were both arrested on the evening of [April 23],” he added.

ILNA has denied any affiliation with the “disrespectful” cartoon while accusing its opponents of having faked the news agency’s logo and falsely accused it of publishing the cartoon.

The cartoon mocks those promoting fake treatments to ward off the coronavirus, including drinking camel urine and inserting violet oil in the anus, under the guise of Islamic medicine.

It appeared to suggest that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is supportive of such measures, depicting him as a nurse who is calling for silence.

RFE provided a copy of the cartoon. It was originally shared using ILNA’s account on the encrypted messaging platform Telegram, which is very popular in Iran. The other caricatures are of Ayatollah Abbas Tabrizian, the “father of Islamic medicine,” and Mehdi Sabili, the “Islamic medicine specialist” who urged Iranians to drink camel urine: 

Sabili on Sunday instructed his 60,000 Instagram followers to beat lung diseases, asthma, and the Wuhan virus by enjoying three tall glasses of camel urine per day, preferably in the “initial hot temperature” it enjoys when emerging from the camel.

Drinking camel urine is actually one of the less hideous of these “Islamic medicine” treatments. Ayatollah Tabrizian’s contribution to coronavirus quackery was the suggestion to “insert velvet oil into the anus,” while another imam has been telling his followers they need only sniff a special perfume to ward off the disease. The perfume imam got at least one of his followers killed, while several genuine medical doctors have been flogged for questioning Tabrizian’s posterior prescription.

Over 700 Iranians have been killed by guzzling methanol, which they believe kills the coronavirus even though it is a form of alcohol technically prohibited under Islamic law. Belief in methanol as a coronavirus treatment apparently began because some Iranians thought their reluctance to drink liquor was the reason their country suffered such a severe outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus, and because high-proof alcohol is an ingredient in some hand sanitizers. Since the early days of the pandemic, Iranian social media accounts have been buzzing with false stories of foreigners curing themselves of Covid-19 by drinking whiskey.

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