updated 5/23/2006 8:23:49 AM ET 2006-05-23T12:23:49

The government closed one of the country’s top three newspapers Tuesday, detaining its editor and cartoonist, for publishing a caricature that caused members of Iran’s Azeri minority to riot in protest.

State television reported that the Press Supervisory Body had closed the state-owned Iran, “due to its publication of divisive and provocative materials.”

The closure was indefinite, the television reported. It was the first time a newspaper had been banned since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office last year.

Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi went on television to say the paper’s cartoonist and editor-in-chief had been detained.

“Those responsible, the cartoonist and the chief editor, were summoned and the charges were read to them. The two were taken to Evin prison,” Mortazavi said.

Cockroach speaking Azeri
On Friday, the Farsi-language paper Iran published a cartoon showing a cockroach speaking Azeri, the language of an ethnic group in northwestern Iran.

The cartoon provoked riots in Tabriz, the capital of Eastern Azerbaijan province, on Monday. Police fired tear-gas as rioters smashed windows of the local governor’s office.

Culture Minister Saffar Harrandi appeared on state television Monday and apologized for the cartoon. He promised to punish the paper’s editor and cartoonist.

But Azeri legislator Eshrat Shayegh said the apology came “at least one week” too late.

Azeris make up about a quarter of Iran’s 70 million people.

Iran’s conservative judiciary has closed more than 100 newspapers, mostly pro-reform, since 2000. However, Tuesday’s closure came from the Press Supervisory Body, not the judges.

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