Amid unrest, Iranian extremists are turning their anger on France


Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Iranian extremists burned France’s flag on Sunday outside its embassy in Tehran where they were protesting cartoons published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that ridicule Iran’s ruling clerics.

The Charlie Hebdo cartoons have largely aligned the Paris-based magazine with the demands of anti-government protests that have swept Iran calling for the fall of its Islamic Republic and challenging its hardline establishment.

The protests outside the French embassy follow previous attempts by Iranian leaders to mobilize their supporters in counter-protests.

Hundreds of protesters, including high school students, shouted “Death to France” and accused French President Emmanuel Macron of insulting Iran while urging Paris to end “animosity” towards Tehran. Police, some of whom appeared holding images of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, kept protesters away from the embassy building.

Supporters of hardline Iranian leaders typically target their anti-US protests and flags and stars and stripes, but targeting the French tricolor is rare.

State television said some clerics had staged similar protests in the shrine city of Qom, the center of religious learning in Iran.

On Sunday, Iranian parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf linked the French magazine’s cartoons to what officials have repeatedly claimed was the West’s plot to spread “riots” in Iran.

Later that day, President Ebrahim Raisi offered his first reaction to the French cartoons and echoed similar claims. “Using insults under the pretext of freedom is a clear indication of their frustration at concluding a plot for chaos and insecurity” in Iran, he said.

Anti-government protests erupted across Iran in September following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been arrested by the country’s vice squad for allegedly breaking its strict Islamic dress code.

The unrest has become one of the most serious challenges for the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution that brought it to power. Human rights groups say at least 517 protesters have been killed and more than 19,200 people arrested in a violent crackdown by security forces. Iranian authorities have not provided an official tally of those killed or detained.

On Saturday, authorities executed two men convicted of killing a paramilitary volunteer during the protests.

Saturday’s hangings revealed that four people had been executed since the unrest began in September following Amini’s death. All the sentences were handed down in speedy closed trials that drew international criticism.

Sunday was also the third anniversary of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ downing of a Ukrainian airliner with two surface-to-air missiles, killing all 176 people on board – a tragedy that sparked an outburst of anger across the country. Iran. Tehran initially denied responsibility for shooting down the plane before admitting it had done so by mistake amid high tensions with the United States

An Iranian court has yet to issue a verdict three years after the start of the trial of 10 servicemen who have not been publicly identified but are believed to be involved in the downing of the plane.

The families of the victims gathered at the crash site on Sunday to hold a memorial ceremony separate from an official commemoration held at Tehran International Airport, which had been the departure point for the flight.

Separately, on Sunday, a court sentenced Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to a five-year prison term for “propaganda against the system”, Iranian media reported.

The outspoken and pro-reform Hashemi had been in jail since late September after she was arrested by security forces for supporting protests led by women against compulsory headscarves or hijabs under the Islamic Republic.

In 2011, Hashemi was convicted and served five years in prison on similar security charges.

Iranian officials have continued to claim that the months-long protests are being carried out by foreign agents, but have offered no evidence.

Following Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons mocking Iranian religious figures, authorities in Tehran closed a decades-old French research institute on Thursday and called the closure a “first step” in their response.

ABC News

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