TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran’s best-selling newspaper on Tuesday defended its competition for cartoons about the Holocaust, saying it was a test of the boundaries of free speech espoused by Western countries.
The Hamshahri newspaper contest, which has been strongly condemned by Jewish organizations and Western governments, follows widespread ire in the Islamic world over caricatures published in the European press depicting the Prophet Mohammad.
"We do not want to make fun of anyone with this competition, we just want to raise a question to find an answer which is very important for us," said Mohammadreza Zaeri, publisher of Hamshahri, which is owned by the Tehran municipality.
"We are not even after a historical discussion on the Holocaust. The West believes that the Holocaust is true and we suppose that if it is true, aren’t we entitled to draw caricatures about it?" he told a news conference.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has drawn widespread condemnation for repeated remarks in recent months questioning the veracity of the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map".
The Iranian embassy in Germany on Monday demanded a written apology from a Berlin newspaper that printed a cartoon of Iranian soccer players dressed as suicide bombers and threatened legal action if none was forthcoming.
Submissions for the Hamshahri contest, held jointly with Iran’s Cartoon House, a syndicate for caricaturists, will be open until May 5, with international entries encouraged.
A website, www.irancartoon.com , is posting the submissions as they come in.
"The freedom of speech that the Westerners talk about is nothing more than a slogan," said Masoud Shojaei-Tabatabaei, head of the Cartoon House.
"It is surprising that they allow disrespect toward different religions with insulting pictures and there is no reaction to them in the West, but when people question the Holocaust, they adopt such a stance toward it," he said.
Scores of protesters threw petrol bombs and stones at the British and German embassies in Tehran on Tuesday in further violent demonstrations over the Prophet Mohammad caricatures.