Monday, August 28, 2006

Head of banned Iran daily acquitted over cartoon

The Washington Post:
The managing director of an Iranian daily has been acquitted of insulting Iran's Azeri minority, four months after the newspaper was banned for a cartoon that sparked protests, an official said on Monday.

But in a separate case, the managing editor of a monthly publication was jailed for four years after being convicted of publishing articles against the constitution, libeling the state broadcaster and other offences, a news agency reported.

The state-owned newspaper Iran was suspended on May 23 after publishing a cartoon that offended Azeris and led to several days of unrest in northwestern Azerbaijan province.

"I accept that we were not careful enough in publishing that cartoon but undoubtedly we did not mean to insult our Azeri-speaking compatriots," Gholamhossein Islamifard was quoted as saying by the daily Etemad when speaking in his defense.

Etemad reported Islamifard's acquittal. A judiciary official confirmed that he had been acquitted but gave no more details.

It was not immediately clear what impact the verdict would have on the fate of the newspaper. The cartoonist, Mana Neyestani, is still awaiting trial, as is an Iran journalist. READ MORE

The daily Sharq newspaper said Islamifard had been charged with creating division among sects of society and insulting the Azeri-speaking people.

The cartoon that caused the stir showed a boy repeating the Persian word for cockroach in different ways while the uncomprehending bug says "What?" in Azeri.

The Azeris of northwestern Iran speak a language related to Turkish. Azeris, who make up 25 percent of the population, have many luminaries among Iran's commercial elite but Iran's majority Persians often mock them in their jokes.

The managing editor of the monthly Aftab, Isa Saharkhiz, was sentenced to four years' jail and barred from press responsibilities for five years, the students news agency ISNA reported.

It said he was convicted of publishing articles against the principles of the constitution, 13 cases of propaganda against the "sacred system" of the Islamic Republic and libeling and publishing lies about the state broadcaster.

"I believe Iran's judiciary does not have the necessary independence, therefore expecting justice in this system is pointless. So, although I have the right to appeal against the sentence, I will not do that," Saharkhiz told Reuters.

He said neither he nor his lawyers had been informed about the sentence, but he had heard about it from news reports. The monthly Aftab and the daily Akhbar-e Eqtesadi, which he also headed, were both previously closed down.