Artist Mahmoud Shokraye's sentence of 25 lashes for insulting MP is likely to be quashed

An Iranian MP who brought a case against a cartoonist which resulted in a sentence of 25 lashes has withdrawn his complaint after widespread condemnation of the artist's conviction.

Mahmoud Shokraye was found guilty of insulting Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani, MP for Arak, the capital of Iran's central province of Markazi, in a cartoon he drew of the parliamentarian in Nameye Amir, a city newspaper.

In an unprecedented punishment for an Iranian cartoonist, a media law court in Arak handed down a sentence of 25 lashes, triggering domestic and international outcry among Shokraye's colleagues and human rights organisations.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported on Monday that Ashtiani had withdrawn his complaint. Experts familiar with Iranian law said it would mean the cartoonist's conviction would be quashed. In a statement, Ashtiani attempted to exonerate himself by blaming the court for the sentence of lashing, saying he merely sued the publication for defamation but the court, instead, condemned the cartoonist.

Shokraye's cartoon depicted Ashtiani in a football stadium, dressed as a footballer, with a congratulatory letter in one hand and his foot resting on the ball. In the cartoon, the MP's forehead — as in reality — had a dark mark, said to be the sign of a pious Shia Muslim, supposedly caused by frequent prostration during prayer.

It is believed that Shokraye drew the MP in order to highlight recent criticism of Ashtiani's perceived interference in Iranian sport.

In response to the artist's sentence, cartoonists launched a campaign of drawing new caricatures of the MP, with many Iranians and their colleagues across the world contributing by posting their cartoons online.

The campaign's idea initially came from Mana Neyestani, who himself fell victim to the state's aggression towards cartoonists in 2006 when he spent two months in jail for a cartoon deemed “insulting” to the country's Azeri ethnic minority.

Nikahang Kowsar, a prominent Iranian cartoonist who fell foul of the authorities for portraying a prominent cleric as a crocodile, welcomed the news by saying it showed Iran still cared about its image in the international community. “I think the withdrawal was the result of the solidarity of Iranian cartoonists in support of their colleague as well as international exposure.” Despite the relief for Shokraye, dozens of journalists remain in jail in Iran.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012

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