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Cartoonist held after lampooning conservative cleric

TEHRAN, Iran, February 5, 2000 (AFP) - The Iranian cartoonist whose lampooning of a leading conservative cleric sparked days of protests by hardline theology students was remanded in custody Saturday after appearing in press court.

Nik Ahangh-Kosar, 30, was taken to Tehran's Evin prison after being questioned over two cartoons in the pro-reform Azad daily satrising a cleric who claimed the US Central Intelligence Agency was paying reformist journalists.

Cartoonist freed on bail after court appearance

TEHRAN, Iran, February 10, 2000 (AFP) - An Iranian newspaper cartoonist held on charges of insulting a prominent religious conservative was ordered freed on bail Thursday after he appeared before a judge of the press court, his lawyer said.

Nik Ahangh-Kosar of the reformist newspaper Azad, was remanded in custody in Evin prison on the orders of Judge Said Mortazavi on February 5 after his cartoons stirred a storm of protests from conservatives.

Mortazavi confirmed that Anangh-Kozar would be provisionally released, adding that his lawyer Safdarali Bazdar had asked for ten days to prepare the cartoonist's defence.

The managing director of Azad, Mohammad-Reza Yazdanpahan Fadai, was also accused, but did not appear in court Wednesday after Bazdar said he had been taken to hspital suffering from depression and nervous troubles.

The two offending cartoons appeared in Azad on January 30 and 31. One depicted leading conservative cleric Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi as a crocodile -- in a Farsi pun on his name -- weeping at being a victim of "mercenary writers."

The other showed a fat plutocrat demanding that a poor young man, wielding only a pen, reveal where he had hidden his dollars.

Mesbah-Yazdi last month alleged the US Central Intelligence Agency had infiltrated Iran's reformist government and bribed moderate journalists.

For conservatives, the two cartoons proved the anti-clerical tendencies of the reformist papers and constituted "an attack on Islam and Islamic values".

They provoked a mass three-day protest by religious students in the holy city of Qom, demanding the resignation of Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani.

The demonstrators ended their protest Saturday evening, after an appeal by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mohajerani refused to step down.

Azad itself has suspended publication.

Through Bazdar Fadai repeated his apologies Wednesday for publishing the cartoons.

"I had absolutely no intention of damaging the image of the clergy, since I myself come from a clerical family," he said.

(The international human rights group Reporters sans Frontieres issued a statement Wednesday backing Ahangh-Kosar, who it said faced between a month and a year in prison as well as 74 lashes.

(The group has called on international cartoonists to rally round in support of him.)