Ahmad Lotfi Ashitani and his sketch

The head of Iran’s House of Cartoon expressed regret that the sentence of 25 lashings handed to Mahmoud Shokraye, a cartoonist in the city of Arak, has turned into a political crisis.

Masooud Shojai Tabatabai spoke to the Fars News Agency on Sunday about the 25 lashings handed to Shokraye for his depiction of the former Arak MP Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani as a football player, adding that the matter has stirred the political atmosphere and thrown Iran’s cartoonist community into crisis.

While he admitted that the drawing by the Araki cartoonist was “very simple, critical and completely free of any insulting interpretations”, he added that the sentence has led to it being blown out of proportion by media outlets that oppose the Islamic Republic regime.

“This issue can still end in a peaceful atmosphere of consultation with expert cartoonists and away from political controversy and avoid this distressing sentence,” said Shojai Tabatabai.

He called the sentence “very heavy” and added: “All this happens while cartoons of government officials have been accepted with great tolerance.”

He added that cartoonists are aware of the red lines they cannot cross and they will never make religious and moral issues a subject of their sketches, but he added that “if a cartoonist cannot draw a simple image of a member of parliament, then how can he be a cartoonist?”

Shokraye depicted the former Arak MP Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani as a football player on a football field in “Amir” magazine. Lotfi Ashitani had apparently proposed transferring the football major league from Tehran to Arak, which some had interpreted as a publicity ploy in the parliamentary elections.

Shokraye’s sentence has been condemned by Iranian and international cartoonists as well as the Cartoonists Rights Network and Amnesty International.