The Iranian government says it is closing a French research institute in Tehran over offensive caricatures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that were published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
In its latest issue, the controversial French weekly published cartoons mocking Khamenei, who has held power in Iran for more than 30 years, as part of a competition launched in support of anti-government protesters who have taken to the streets across the country for more than three months.
The security forces have unleashed a bloody crackdown on the demonstrations, killing more than 500 people, including dozens of children, and detaining over 18,000, human rights activists say. At least 100 protesters are currently at risk of “execution, death penalty charges or sentences,” according to one rights group.
One cartoon depicted a turbaned cleric reaching for a hangman’s noose as he drowns in blood, while another showed Khamenei clinging to a giant throne above the raised fists of protesters. Other entries depict sexually explicit scenes that included the supreme leader and other Iranian clerics.
"In reviewing cultural relations with France and examining the possibility of continuing French cultural activities in Iran, the ministry is ending the activities of the French Institute for Research in Iran as a first step," the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on January 5.
The mission of the institute founded in 1983 is to promote research in the fields of archeology, as well as human and social sciences.
The ministry's statement comes a day after Tehran summoned France's ambassador to Iran to protest the "insulting" cartoons. Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian vowed a “decisive and effective response” to the publication of the caricatures.
In a radio interview, Foreign Minster Catherine Colonna said the Islamic Republic was pursuing bad policies through its violence against the Iranian population.
"Let's remember that in France press freedom exists, contrary to what's happening in Iran and that this [freedom] is overseen by a judge within the framework of an independent judiciary, which is something that Iran without doubt doesn't know well," Colonna said.
Charlie Hebdo has a history of pushing the limits of free speech on race, religion, and politics in France, home to Europe's largest Muslim community.
The weekly has been the target of other attacks over the years. In 2015, 12 people were killed by Islamist militants in an attack at the magazine's Paris office over the publication of cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The ongoing nationwide protests were triggered by the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was being held by police for allegedly wearing a headscarf improperly.
The women-led protest movement has morphed into the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.