First cartoon of Iranian leader in 25 years

An Iranian newspaper has published a caricature of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hitting a punching bag with a nuclear emblem on it, marking the first time the country’s leader has been drawn in a cartoon in more than 25 years.

The cartoon, published yesterday on the last page of the reformist Etemad Melli newspaper, shows the hardline president surrounded by poultry, wearing boxing gloves and punching a bag with a nuclear energy emblem on it.

“The cartoon shows Ahmadinejad busy with two international and domestic issues; the nuclear file and bird flu,” said Bozorgmehr Hosseinpour, the 29-year-old cartoonist.

Iran has been under intense international pressure over its nuclear programme. And last week, the country confirmed that bird flu had infected wild birds in northern Iran.

Hosseinpour said he took the opportunity to draw the president after the Culture Ministry, which controls newspapers, authorised caricatures of the president. The drawings are not vetted before publication.

Iranian newspapers have avoided caricatures of the president in the last 25 years, apparently out of respect for the leaders, who were also Muslim clerics. In 2000, one newspaper published a cartoon depicting only the foot of then-President Mohammad Khatami, and said it would not fully depict him as a sign of respect for his sacred robes.

In the 1980s, Iranian papers frequently drew caricatures of then-President Abolhassan Banisadr, the first president after 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the monarchy in Iran. He was not a cleric, and neither is Ahmadinejad.

Iranians have rallied around Ahmadinejad in support of the country’s nuclear programme in the face of international efforts to shut it down. The US and its European allies accuse Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapon programme; Iran denies the charges and says the programme is for peaceful energy purposes.

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