Cartoonist Mahmoud Shokraiyeh drew a member of the Iranian parliament wearing a soccer jersey, and so now he's now going to be lashed 25 times because this is Iran we're talking about and some of their provincial judges and politicians don't look too kindly on things like artistic expression and, I guess, how that might relate to soccer.
Daryl Cagle, who writes the excellent Cartoon Blog on MSNBC.com, contacted one of his friends, an Iranian cartoonist named Nik Kowsar who was once imprisoned because of his drawings, to see why such a harsh punishment would stem from a seemingly innocuous image:
In 2009, I asked (via email) Grand Ayatollah Montazeri (who died months later) if based on his interpretation of Islam, was it OK to draw Grand Ayatollahs in cartoons or not. He said that as long as you are not insulting a person, there are no objections to drawing that individual. This was sort of a "Fatwa" (a juristic ruling concerning Islamic law), though I had only asked for his opinion.
Still, no one inside Iran dares draw an Ayatollah, and until a few days ago, it was totally OK to draw cartoons of non-cleric officials. Now, Iranian cartoonist Mahmoud Shokrayeh has been sentenced to 25 lashes because he drew a caricature of Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani, a member of the Iranian parliament, wearing a soccer jersey.
One thing interesting about Shokrayeh's cartoon is the dark skinned mark on Lotfi Ashtiani's forehead. In Islamic countries, this is the sign of "praying too much". Rubbing the forehead on the ground during prayer for years and years does this. You can see it on many Islamist leaders' faces.
Cagle followed up with his friend on the significance of the soccer jersey:
Why did Shokraiyeh draw the MP in a soccer jersey? The MP was interested in bringing soccer clubs to the city of Arak. Nik said, "Imagine if LA Lakers move from LA to SF and turn into SF Lakers."
Incidentally, if you're wondering how this ultimately plays out, it's much more informal than I imagined:
I asked Nik how the lashings work and if Shokraiyeh was in prison pending his punishment. Nik responded to say that Shokraiyeh was not imprisoned and the lashings are done by appointment; Shokraiyeh will be called and given a time to come in to get his lashings, then he can leave (kind of like a trip to the dentist for a root canal, I guess).
Kind of, except not.