Iran claims offense over German football cartoon

A German newspaper has published a cartoon depicting the Iranian football team arriving at this summer's World Cup in Germany with explosives attached to their chests. A caption read: "Why the German army should definitely be used during the football World Cup."

The general secretary of Iran's sports press association described the caricature as a "black joke" and the Iranian embassy in Berlin called for an apology, saying the cartoon was "an immoral act", the Guardian (UK) reported.

The row comes amid violent protests which have suddenly erupted in certain Moslem countries over cartoons depicting Islam's prophet Muhammad, published in a Danish newspaper in September 2005. In Iran, for instance, scores of protesters were allowed to hurl petrol bombs and stones at the British and German embassies in Tehran.

Malte Lehming, comment editor at Der Tagesspiegel, said the caricature was meant for "a German audience". Asked whether it had been unwise to print it, he told the Guardian: "The problem is where do you draw the line? Cartoons have to be satirical and mean. We are very sorry if we have hurt the feelings of any Iranians. But we have not apologised."

The cartoonist, Klaus Stuttmann, has received three death threats and is in hiding, the paper said. It reprinted the cartoon next to an editorial, which said it had not intended to question the "integrity" of Iran's football team.

Last December, former German international Wolfgang Overath suggested that Iran "should be banned" from the 2006 World Cup finals because of a statement by its president that the Holocaust [the systematic murder of millions of European Jews by the German Nazi terrorist regime between 1933-1945] did not occur, which closely followed his call for the majority-Jewish state of Israel to be "wiped off the map".

"Such comments from a head of state are really grounds enough to exclude a country," Overath said in an interview on German television ahead of the World Cup draw in Leipzig.

See also: German chancellor will "not push to punish" Iran (20 Jan)