DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran summoned the French ambassador on Wednesday to condemn the publication of offensive caricatures of the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The magazine has a long history of publishing vulgar cartoons mocking Islamists, which critics say are deeply insulting to Muslims. Two French-born al-Qaida extremists attacked the newspaper’s office in 2015, killing 12 cartoonists, and it has been the target of other attacks over the years.
Its January issue features the winners of a recent cartoon contest in which entrants were asked to draw the most offensive caricatures of Khamenei, who has held Iran’s highest office since 1989. The contest was billed as a show of support for anti-government protests rocking Iran.
One of the finalists depicts a turbaned cleric reaching for a hangman’s noose as he drowns in blood, while another shows Khamenei clinging to a giant throne above the raised fists of protesters. Others depict more vulgar and sexually explicit scenes.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian vowed a “decisive and effective response” to the publication of the cartoons, which he said had insulted Iran’s religious and political authorities.
The French government, while defending free speech, has rebuked the privately-owned magazine in the past for fanning tensions.
Iran has been gripped by nationwide protests for nearly four months following the death in mid-September of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been detained by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code.
Women have taken the lead in the protests, with many stripping off the compulsory Islamic headscarf in public. The protesters have called for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling clerics in one of the biggest challenges to their rule since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought them to power.
Charlie Hebdo, which has published similarly offensive cartoons about dead child migrants, virus victims, neo-Nazis, popes, Jewish leaders and other public figures, presents itself as an advocate for democracy and free expression. But it routinely pushes the limits of French hate speech laws with often sexually explicit caricatures that target nearly everyone.
The paper drew fire for reprinting caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad that were originally published by a Danish magazine in 2005. Those cartoons were seen as sacrilegious and deeply hurtful to Muslims worldwide, many of whom nevertheless condemned the violent response to the drawings.