Turkish daily braves Muslim backlash to print Charlie Hebdo cartoons

14th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

A leading Turkish daily on Wednesday printed excerpts from the first issue of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo since Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in an attack on its offices, defying a growing outcry in the Islamic world over the edition.

The daily Cumhuriyet, which strongly opposes President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was the sole publication in a majority Muslim country to reproduce a special section of cartoons and articles from the Charlie Hebdo issue.

Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious centre of learning, had warned that new cartoons will only serve to "stir up hatred" while there was also an angry reaction to the issue from Iran and also Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

Along with a Charlie Hebdo editorial about how it would not give into the attacks, the excerpts in Cumhuriyet included cartoons satirising Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram and Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Utku Cakirozer described the printing of the four page pull-out as a "display of solidarity" with Charlie Hebdo.

"When preparing this pull-out, we observed the sensitivities of communities and religious beliefs as part of our principles," he said.

"Cumhuriyet will continue to defend the freedom of expression vigorously, as it has always done in the past," he said in a statement.

Turkey's three main satirical magazines -- Leman, Penguen and Uykusuz -- in a rare show of solidarity published identical black covers with the slogan "Je Suis Charlie".

- 'After much deliberation' -

The paper said police had conducted a check on the print run of the paper at the press during the night. But after the issue was referred to prosecutors, deliveries were allowed to go ahead.

In Istanbul, the road where the paper's offices are located was closed to normal traffic and special police forces and armoured vehicles were stationed outside.

An AFP correspondent in Ankara said that the main office of Cumhuriyet was being guarded by dozens of police who had installed water cannon trucks.

A small group of pro-Islamic students earlier staged a protest outside the paper's office in Ankara, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

The pull-out edition did not include the controversial front cover of the new Charlie Hebdo, which shows a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

"After much deliberation, we have decided not to include the cover page of the magazine in the pull-out," said Cakirozer.

However a smaller version of that cartoon, where the prophet sheds a tear and holds a sign saying a sign that says "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie"), was included on page five of the newspaper itself in a column by Cumhuriyet commentator Hikmet Cetinkaya.

"If you ask me, the cartoon has nothing to do with Prophet Mohammed. It's a symbol of humanity and fairness," Cetinkaya wrote in defence of the cartoon.

Cumhuriyet, founded in 1924 at the behest of the founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, considers itself to be a staunch upholder of the secular values he championed.

- 'Insulting and provocative' -

Many Muslims consider images of the prophet, not least ones satirising him, to be blasphemous under Islam and Turkey's Islamic-rooted leaders in the past angrily denounced such cartoons.

Charlie Hebdo had angered Muslims in the past by printing cartoons lampooning the prophet and Islam.

The new issue has already caused controversy within the Islamic world, raising fears of a repeat of the violent 2006 protests over the cartoons of Mohammed printed in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.

The drawings "do not serve the peaceful coexistence between peoples and hinders the integration of Muslims into European and Western societies," the Cairo-based Al-Azhar's Islamic research centre added in a statement.

The Islamic State (IS) group's radio described the publication of the new cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed as an "extremely stupid" act.

Iran foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the cartoon "provokes the emotions of Muslims and hurts their feelings around the world, and could fan the flames of a vicious circle of extremism."

She said that the new cartoon was "abuse of freedom of speech, which is common in the West these days."

© 2015 AFP

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