Iran Closes Newspaper, Detains 2 Staff, for Cartoon

The government closed one of the country's top three newspapers Tuesday, detaining its editor and cartoonist for publishing a caricature that caused members of Iran's Azeri minority to riot in protest.

State television reported that the Press Supervisory Body had closed the state-owned newspaper Iran "due to its publication of divisive and provocative materials."

The closure was indefinite, the television reported. It was the first time a newspaper had been banned since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office last year.

CountryWatch: Iran

On Friday, the Farsi-language newspaper published a cartoon showing a cockroach speaking Azeri, the language of an ethnic group in northwestern Iran.

The cartoon provoked riots Monday in Tabriz, the capital of Eastern Azerbaijan province. Police fired tear gas as rioters smashed windows of the local governor's office.

Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi said the paper's cartoonist and editor-in-chief had been detained.

"Those responsible, the cartoonist and the chief editor, were summoned and the charges were read to them. The two were taken to Evin prison," Mortazavi said on state-run television.

Culture Minister Saffar Harrandi appeared on state television Monday and apologized for the cartoon. He promised to punish the paper's editor and cartoonist.

But Azeri legislator Eshrat Shayegh said the apology came "at least one week" too late.

Azeris make up about a quarter of Iran's 70 million people.

Iran's conservative judiciary has closed more than 100 newspapers, mostly pro-reform, since 2000. Tuesday's closure, however, came from the Press Supervisory Body, not the judges.