‘Insulting’ cartoons under investigation
The Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office has announced that the cartoonist who works under the pseudonym Gregorius Nekschot was arrested this week - and then released - for publishing cartoons on the internet that were insulting to Muslims and to people of colour. By Philip Smet
The Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office has announced that the cartoonist who works under the pseudonym Gregorius Nekschot was arrested for publishing ‘insulting cartoons’. The cartoonist will not reveal his real name out of fear that Islamic extremists will seek revenge for the cartoons, many of which make fun of the Muslim religion. It is extremely unusual for a Dutch artist to be arrested for his works. Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin says he does not believe the case has anything to do with suppressing free expression.
On Tuesday last week, Gregorius Nekschot was arrested at his Amsterdam home. The arresting force was made up of the magistrate, five police officers and three members of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. His home was searched and he was taken to a police station, where he refused to answer questions. That night he had to remain in the cell; he was released the next day.
The complaint which Public Prosecutor’s Office is handling was made in 2005. The Public Prosecutor’s Office’s issued a press release saying: “The investigation has revealed that a number of cartoons published on the internet were, according to our office, insulting to Muslims and to people of colour. Moreover, the Public Prosecutor’s Office believes the cartoons could inspire hatred.”
Gregorius Nekschot published his cartoons on his own website. Film producer and columnist Theo van Gogh, who was killed in 2004 by a Muslim extremist, also used to publish Gregorius Nekschot’s cartoons on his website. The cartoonist is known for his extremely insulting caricatures of religion and left-wing politicians. One of the reasons he was not arrested earlier is because he works anonymously – the Public Prosecutor’s Office says they simply couldn’t find him.
Minister Hirsch Ballin says the Netherlands has an international obligation to crack down on this type of discrimination. However, many politicians have complained about the arrest. Democrat party D66 MP Boris van der Ham has asked the minister for clarification about the arrest. Not only does he think it was carried out with an excessive show of force, he does not think the Public Prosecutor’s Office should have taken legal action against the artist. He says ‘a public debate’ is preferable to a trial. “It’s also not true that Dutch Muslims aren’t capable of defending themselves. In the discussion of the film by Geert Wilders – Fitna – many moderate Muslims just raised their shoulders. I think the same holds true for this cartoonist, even if (the cartoons) are extremely coarse.”
Even though he thinks the cartoons are sometimes tasteless, the lawyer Gerard Hamer does not agree with the conviction of the Public Prosecutor’s Office that they inspire hatred. He also describes the arrest of the cartoonist as “exaggerated, not right and not in agreement with the constitution.” He says the cartoonist should be able to explain his actions to the judge, without being arrested.
Mr Hamer described the arrest as “Pure intimidation. If it isn’t really necessary to arrest people you shouldn’t do it. Our freedom is a great good, as is the freedom of expression. By arresting someone you have an influence on free expression. You show that because of his cartoons he has a real chance of losing his freedom. This is what they do in Zimbabwe, or in other countries; there it happens all the time. One hopes that the Amsterdam Public Prosecutor’s Office won’t end up making this a habit.”
The Dutch government said on a previous occasion that insulting religion should remain a punishable offence. Many MPs disagree and want to abolish the law. On Tuesday, Parliament will continue to debate freedom of expression and the arrest of Gregorius Nekschot.
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18 May 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands 2008]