Iran holds anti-Isis caricature contest

An Iranian cartoon and caricature competition launched with the intention of mocking Islamic State militants has attracted thousands of entries from UK, Peru, Italy, Cuba, France, Australia, Brazil and Indonesia among other countries.

The competition, to be held in Tehran, started with a press conference in February of this year, according to Tehran's Press TV. Iran's House of Cartoons launched the competition with the aim of revealing the true barbaric nature of the extremist Islamist group.

More than 800 entries subsequently rushed in from around the world from more than 40 different countries. This week, 280 pieces have been selected to be judged by a team of graphics experts in the Iranian capital, and there are plans to display the winning entries across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

"In order to reveal the true nature of IS we decided to hold this contest and have people submit their cartoons or caricatures," Massoud Shoja'ei Tabatabai, the head of Iran's House of Cartoons, told Iranian TV. "IS tries to associate itself with Islam, but its essence has no idea about Islam," he continued.

"Nowadays everyone around the world knows about the parasite by the name of ISIS and what crimes they have committed against humanity and art and culture," the contest organiser Mohammad Habibi said. "Artists now have the duty to raise public awareness about this group by participating in such events."

Yet many of the cartoons implicate a variety of other countries in Islamic State's crimes. In one of the submitted cartoons, an Islamic State militant is shown with blood on his hands, while Western countries and Saudi Arabia are seen offering him a towel.

January's fatal attacks on the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the subsequent shooting at a debate in Copenhagen attended by the prominent cartoonist Lars Vilks appear not to have dampened international enthusiasm for cartoons tackling controversial subject matter.

Earlier this year, Iran's House of Cartoon organised a competition around the theme of Holocaust denial, reportedly in response to the publication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

Yet there are reports in the Iranian press that some of the international cartoonists who have entered the competition, particularly those from countries in the Middle East, are using nicknames to keep themselves anonymous for security reasons.

Earlier this month, a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed that cartoonists often face considerable threats and retaliation in response to their work.

Courtney Radsch, advocacy director of CPJ, told Newsweek that cartoonists are "particularly vulnerable" to threats because their work conveys "incredibly complex ideas and themes and critiques in a pretty simple, easy to understand manner that crosses barriers".

In Iran, cartoonists who mock Iranian politicians can face harsh punishments. An artist and political activist, Atena Farghadani, went on trial last week for a cartoon criticising a draft law which would hamper Iranian women's access to birth control. In her cartoon she depicted MPs as animals.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony due to take place at Tehran's Arasbaran Cultural Centre on 31 May.