Danish Court Rejects Suit Against Paper That Printed Prophet Cartoons

By Jan M. Olsen
Associated Press
Friday, October 27, 2006

COPENHAGEN, Oct. 26 -- A Danish court rejected a lawsuit Thursday against the newspaper that first printed the controversial prophet Muhammad cartoons. Arab politicians and intellectuals warned that the verdict would widen the gap between Westerners and Muslims, but they said mass protests were unlikely.

The City Court in Aarhus rejected claims by seven Danish Muslim groups that the 12 drawings printed in the Jyllands-Posten daily were meant to insult the prophet and make a mockery of Islam. Islamic law forbids any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry.

The court conceded that some Muslims saw the drawings as offensive, but found that there was no basis to assume that "the purpose of the drawings was to present opinions that can belittle Muslims."

"The dismissal of the lawsuit against the newspaper, which was expected, confirms the ongoing intention to harm our religion and our prophet," said Mahmoud al-Kharabsheh, an independent legislator who heads the Jordanian parliament's legal committee.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal the verdict, spokesman Kasem Ahmad told Danish radio, adding that he feared that Muslims around the world would be upset by the ruling.

Jyllands-Posten's editor in chief hailed the court's decision as a victory for freedom of speech.

"Everything but a pure acquittal would have been a disaster for press freedom and the media's ability to fulfill its duties in a democratic society," Carsten Juste said.

The newspaper has apologized for offending Muslims but stands by its decision to print the cartoons in September 2005 as a challenge to a perceived self-censorship among artists afraid to offend Islam.

The caricatures were reprinted in European newspapers in January and February, fueling protests in the Islamic world. Some turned violent, with protesters killed in Libya and Afghanistan.

In Lebanon, where protesters set fire to the building housing the Danish Consulate in February, Islamic studies professor Radwan el-Sayyed said Thursday's verdict was a "misinterpretation of freedom of expression."

In Syria, where a mob attacked and set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in February, legislator Mohammed Habash, who heads the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus, said the ruling would "widen the gap between the Western and Islamic world."

One of the cartoons showed the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a burning fuse.

The court said some of the drawings could be perceived as linking Islam to terrorism but added that the purpose was to provide social commentary rather than to insult or ridicule Muslims. The Danish Muslim groups filed the defamation suit in March, after Denmark's top prosecutor declined to press criminal charges, saying the drawings did not violate laws against racism or blasphemy.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company