French court declines to hear Muslim cartoons complaint as leaders urge calm

[JURIST] A French court on Tuesday refused to hear a lawsuit launched to prevent a French newspaper from publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive] that have caused protests and violence [JURIST report] across the globe. The suit, brought by five Muslim organizations including the moderate Paris Mosque [mosque website] and the fundamentalist Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF) [association website], was thrown out on procedural grounds because the public prosecutor's office was not properly notified of the case. Satirical weekly Charlie-Hebdo plans to publish the caricatures in its Wednesday edition. Originally published in Denmark in September, the caricatures have more recently been re-published in other European newspapers [JURIST report] but have been banned by court order in South Africa. A South African newspaper, while not intent on publishing the caricatures, is preparing to challenge that decision because it opposes censorship [Reuters report]. AP has more. Le Figaro has local coverage [in French].

In other late developments in the cartoons controversy Tuesday, a mob in Tehran attacked the Danish embassy [UPI report] with stones and inflammable material for a second day, but were blocked by police. Iranian news agency IRNA claimed [press report] that the crowd dispersed after urgings by Tehran Governor Vajihollah Aqataqi.

In Denmark itself, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen [official website] made a powerful appeal for calm in a press conference in which he also expressed frustration at a situation spiraling out of control. Speaking in English, he said:

Today I want to appeal and reach out to all people and countries in the Muslim world: Let us work together in the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance. We need to solve this issue through dialogue, not violence.

We are today facing a growing global crisis that has the potential to escalate beyond the control of governments and other authorities. Right now, radicals, extremists and fanatics are adding fuel to the flames in order to push forward their own agenda. For that purpose they are portraying a picture of Denmark and European countries that is not true.

Today the people of Denmark witness with disbelief and sadness the events unfolding in the world. We are watching Danish flags being burned and Danish embassies being attacked. We are seeing ourselves characterized as an intolerant people or as enemies of Islam as a religion.

That picture is false. Extremists and radicals who seek a clash of cultures and religions are spreading it. I would like to emphasize: Denmark and the Danish people are not enemies of Islam or any other religion.

Danes have for generations fought for political liberty, human rights and democracy and for economic freedom, free trade and a free and civilized world. We will continue to do that. It is a part of our history and a fundamental part of our society today.

Denmark is one of the world's most tolerant and open societies.

We believe in freedom of expression

We believe in freedom of religion and we respect all religions.

We believe in dialogue between cultures.

We oppose violence and hatred.

And we believe in equal rights for everyone irrespective of gender, religious belief, political conviction or ethnic background.

Let me remind you: It was a free and independent newspaper that published the cartoons. Neither the Danish government nor the Danish people can be held responsible for what is published in a free and independent newspaper.

Let me also remind you that the newspaper has already apologized for the offence caused by the cartoons.

I have also made it clear that the Danish government does not have any intention whatsoever to offend Muslims or believers in any other religion. On the contrary, we do respect people's religious beliefs.

I am appalled that we are in a situation where lies and misinformation not only tarnishes the image of Denmark but also spurs violence abroad.
Read the full text of his address. In another statement Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and a senior European Union representative similarly appealed for restraint, but noted excesses by both the Western press and protestors:
We fully uphold the right of free speech. But we understand the deep hurt and widespread indignation felt in the Muslim World. We believe freedom of the press entails responsibility and discretion, and should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions.

But we also believe the recent violent acts surpass the limits of peaceful protest. In particular, we strongly condemn the deplorable attacks on diplomatic missions that have occurred in Damascus, Beirut and elsewhere. Aggression against life and property can only damage the image of a peaceful Islam. We call on the authorities of all countries to protect all diplomatic premises and foreign citizens against unlawful attack.
Read the full joint statement.


 

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