Iranian factory makes U.S. and Israeli flags to burn

KHOMEIN, Iran (Reuters) – Business is booming at Iran’s largest flag factory which makes U.S., British and Israeli flags for Iranian protesters to burn.

At the factory in the town of Khomein, southwest of the capital Tehran, young men and women print the flags by hand then hang them up to dry. The factory produces about 2,000 U.S. and Israeli flags a month in its busiest periods, and more than 1.5 million square feet of flags a year.

Tensions between the United States and Iran have reached the highest level in decades after top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting Iran to retaliate with a missile attack against a U.S. base in Iraq days later.

In state-sponsored rallies and protests in Iran, demonstrators regularly burn the flags of Israel, U.S. and Britain.

Ghasem Ghanjani, who owns the Diba Parcham flag factory, said: “We have no problem with the American and British people. We have (a) problem with their governors. We have (a) problem with their presidents, with the wrong policy they have.”

“The people of America and Israel know that we have no problem with them. If people burn the flags of these countries at different rallies, it is only to show their protest.”

Rezaei, a quality control manager, who declined to give her first name, said, “compared to the cowardly actions of the United States, such as General Soleimani’s assassination, this (burning an American flag) is a minimal thing against them. This is the least that can be done.”

For hardliners, anti-American sentiment has always been central to Iran’s Islamic revolution, and Iran’s clerical rulers continue to denounce the United States as the Great Satan.

Last November, however, many Iranians took to the streets to protest against the country’s top authorities, chanting “our enemy is not the U.S., our enemy is here.”

During protests this month that erupted after Tehran belatedly admitted shooting down a passenger plane by mistake, young demonstrators in Tehran refused to step on the American flag painted on the street.

(Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

Illinois man sues police over flag burning arrest

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) – An Illinois man is suing members of a local police department alleging his rights were violated when he was arrested last year after he posted photos of himself burning an American flag on social media and they were shared widely, according to court documents.

Bryton Mellott, 22, of Urbana, Illinois, a city around 140 miles (225 km) south of Chicago, set an American flag on fire on July 3 in a friend’s backyard to protest the conditions of many Americans’ lives. He then posted photos to Facebook along with an explanation of his actions, according to court documents filed on Wednesday.

Many states, including Illinois, continue to have flag desecration laws on the books, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that burning of the flag is protected as an expression of free speech.

The Urbana Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Mellott’s lawsuit alleges that four Urbana police officers violated his right to free speech and detained him without reason. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Mellott. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.

“I am not proud to be an American. In this moment, being proud of my country is to ignore the atrocities committed against people of color, people living in poverty, people who identify as women, and against my own queer community on a daily basis,” Mellott wrote last year in the caption accompanying his photos, according to court documents.

He ended his post, “#ArrestMe.”

By the following morning, the post had been shared widely and attracted numerous comments. An officer from the Urbana Police Department called Mellott and told him to take the post down, according to court documents. Mellott declined to do so, saying it had already been shared many times.

Later in the day, Mellott was arrested by Urbana officers for violating the state’s flag desecration statue. He was detained for around five hours.

However, Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz declined to charge Mellott, citing the Supreme Court rulings, and Mellott was released.

President-elect Donald Trump briefly waded into the debate over flag burning last year, when he said in a message on Twitter that there “must be consequences” for burning the flag. He suggested those who do so face loss of citizenship or jail time.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)