The Iranian regime’s closure of a daily newspaper after it published a cartoon critical of leader Ali Khamenei is another attempt to censor the media and silence voices calling for basic human rights, rights organisations say.

The regime shut down moderate Iranian daily Kelid on November 6 after it re-published on its front page a cartoon initially created by Ali Eshtyagh for Kayhan London, an expatriate publication based in the United Kingdom.

The cartoon, which appeared in the newspaper’s last issue, shows a hand wearing a ring with an expensive stone drawing a red line — the poverty line.

The form of the hand, shape and colour of the ring and the gemstone set in it make it clear it belongs to Khamenei.

Contrary to Iran’s claims that Khamenei has only modest wealth and owns just a “husseiniyah and a simple house”, he in fact controls a business empire worth up to $200 billion. Meanwhile, the country is mired in an economic crisis.

The cartoon, first published on Kayhan London’s website, was captioned “The Red Hand”, implying Khamenei’s hand is drenched in the Iranian public’s blood while he lives extravagantly, wearing a ring with an expensive gem.

Below the red line, a group of Iranians are shown struggling to get closer to it.

The re-published cartoon, which naturally did not give credit to Kayhan London as it is anti-regime and banned in Iran, does not include the reaching figures (the public) or the original caption, though other details are identical.

The caption of the cartoon on Kelid’s front page reads, “Millions of Iranian households below the poverty line!”, adding in smaller print the monthly bare minimum amount for an average four-member family to survive.

This is 110.5 million IRR, per a recent official announcement, the equivalent of $350, due to the free fall of the Iranian currency and its historically low value.

The average retired government employee’s monthly pension is about a third of that amount.

That it is Khamenei’s hand drawing the poverty line signals his theocratic dictatorship, while the blood it is drenched in implies he is sacrificing Iranians for his own gain.

“Truthful and open reporting about matters of daily life is of vital importance for the Iranian public,” said Sherif Mansour, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Middle East and North Africa program co-ordinator.

“Iranian authorities must allow Kelid to resume operations immediately and cease any attempts to censor the media.”

Khamenei’s rings

Khamenei’s rings have drawn consistent attention in Iran.

While the self-styled Supreme Leader attempts to portray himself as living a simple and humble lifestyle, and claims he lives within the means of a below-average household, he wears a selection of expensive rings set with large gems.

Even though his right arm was paralysed during an attempt on his life by an opposition group in the early 1980s, he is rarely seen without a ring on his motionless right hand.

On his left hand, too, the leader always wears one or two rings.

His rings are clearly important to him and have become a symbol of holiness surrounding him, according to his steadfast supporters and Iranian right-wing media, usually affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Much fanfare was made after Khamenei gifted one of his rings to the late IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, as a token of his appreciation.

After Soleimani’s death, publications and websites close to Khamenei made a great deal out of his gifting a ring inscribed with Soleimani’s name and likeness to a centre in Tehran where such precious tokens are kept.

Rampant censorship

Over the past 25 years, several publications have been temporarily or permanently shuttered because of cartoons they have published that have been interpreted by the regime as offensive to public figures, particularly clerics.

The daily Azad was shut down more than two decades ago over a cartoon that used a Persian pun to liken Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, a senior cleric and then-member of the Assembly of Experts, to an alligator.

Decisions about closures also have been made following the publication of articles or opinion-editorial pieces that are critical of the regime and its policies and agenda.

At least a dozen dailies were shut down under former president Mohammad Khatami for the unprovable offense of “spreading anti-regime propaganda” when they were only publishing articles in critique of the regime’s hardline elements.

Even the slightest criticism — political, financial or otherwise — can put a publication’s licence in jeopardy, and rampant censorship has spawned severe self-censorship in Iran’s publication sphere.

In the case of the Kelid daily cartoon, the sentence about the poverty line is factual and even based on the government’s own published data.

But the presence of Khamenei’s hand is unacceptable to the regime, as though negative events and issues have nothing to do with him.

While contending with this type of censorship, publications face pressure to give him all credit for positive developments, albeit rare in reality.

Distant from any form of modesty or humility, the leader takes all the credit he can get, in true totalitarian fashion.

Source » almashareq