Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. A political cartoonist in Iran has been sentenced to 25 lashes, yes, a whipping, for drawing a member of the Iranian parliament wearing a soccer jersey. The case is hardly the first involving an Iranian cartoonist being punished by the country's authorities, but it is especially disturbing. The World's Carol Hills covers how political cartoons cover, influence and in this case make news, and she's been following the story. Carol, what was the cartoon about?
Carol Hills: The cartoon was about the efforts of this member of parliament from central Iran to get a major soccer team from Tehran to relocate to his city, which is a much smaller city in central Iran. So the cartoon shows him in a soccer jersey with his foot on a soccer ball.
Werman: And why did the MP sue?
Hills: No one really knows. People have only been able to read the official accounting in the Iranian news agency. The understanding is that he's just offended and doesn't wanna be depicted in a cartoon, but boy, has it caused a stir.
Werman: Yeah, why has it caused a stir?
Hills: Well, the member of parliament sued the magazine where the cartoon appeared. The case was tried before a jury. The magazine got a light punishment, but the cartoonist was sentenced to 25 lashes. What's so weird about this case is I've been speaking to Iranian cartoonists today, those outside of Iran, and they're baffled because they say this is a really tame cartoon. There's nothing new about cartoonists being persecuted in Iran, but they look at this cartoon and they just don't get it.
Werman: What about the government? Has any official reason been given for what's so offensive about this cartoon?
Hills: The only thing that could be a problem, one Iranian cartoonist said the member of parliament in the cartoon, a dark mark is shown on his forehead and some Muslim men will get a dark mark after years of praying, of doing the daily prayers.
Werman: Of putting the forehead on the ground.
Hills: Of the forehead on the ground, but that wasn't brought up. And what's really disturbing is that this is the first time a cartoonist has been persecuted for a non-religious cartoon, and that's what everybody is so worried about because it sets the threshold much lower for getting into trouble with the authorities.
Werman: So what's happened to the cartoonist in question and I mean does he have any colleagues in Iran coming to his aid?
Hills: Well, he is at home, he's not in prison. His name by the way is Mahmoud Shokraye. And how it works is that when it's time for you to receive your whipping you are called to court and taken into a room and whipped. No one knows whether the lashings will take place. The other aspect of this case is that this is a local case. This is a local judge, a local court and national authorities in Iran have not responded, but boy, there's been a huge response online by Iranians inside and outside Iran drawing cartoons in solidarity with this cartoonist and lots of overseas cartoonists. So there's a lot of activity online and it seems as if the Iranian cartoonists inside Iran are trying to alert the national authorities and try to force a response even though it puts themselves at risk.
Werman: The World's Carol Hill is on the case of the Iranian cartoonist sentenced to a flogging. Carol's got a slideshow of the offending cartoon and the cartoons that have been drawn in response to it; that's all at theworld.org. Carol, thanks as always.
Hills: Thanks, Marco.