February 23, 2006

Malaysia slaps newspaper in twist to cartoon row

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has reprimanded one of
its biggest daily newspapers for printing a cartoon lampooning
the global controversy over caricatures of the Prophet

The government's move has fanned a hot debate in this
mainly Muslim country about where to draw the line between
press freedom and respect of religion, because this time it
involves a newspaper closely aligned with mainstream Muslim

The English-language New Straits Times had defended its
right this week to publish the cartoon, which featured a street
artist offering "caricatures of Muhammad while you wait."

But the government, a prominent voice in the Islamic world,
felt it crossed the line and its internal security ministry had
given the daily three days to explain itself, the New Straits
Times said on its front page on Thursday.

"The ministry said the cartoon had breached the conditions
of the newspaper's publishing permit," the paper said.

"It added that the sketch was inappropriate and could
invite negative reactions in the country, especially among

Malaysia, led by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, an
Islamic scholar, has banned the Danish newspaper cartoons at
the heart of the row and has suspended the publishing licences
of two newspapers for publishing some of them.

Muslims enraged by the cartoons have rampaged in several
countries, killing Christians in Nigeria, destroying Western
businesses in Pakistan and torching embassies in the Middle
East. More than 50 people have been killed in the protests.

The offending cartoon published by the New Straits Times on
Monday was one of the globally syndicated Non Sequitur series
by Wiley Miller. In an editorial on Wednesday, the newspaper
responded to complaints about the cartoon, saying the Prophet
had not been depicted.

In the editorial, it asked rhetorically whether the
complaints were politically motivated to cow the newspaper's
editors. "When the truth gets reported, some get hurt. The
powerful ones will seek to protect themselves with whatever
means at their disposal," the editorial said without

The controversy is the latest episode in a public spat
between the newspaper and elements of the ruling party, which
has objected to the New Straits Times' reporting on sensitive
issues of race and religion and its criticism of government