Watchdog urges release of journalists arrested over cartoons

A leading media watchdog today urged the release of six journalists held in Algeria and Yemen for reprinting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that have provoked violent protests in the Muslim world.

“Whatever one thinks of the cartoons or whether they should be published, it is absolutely unjustified to jail or prosecute journalists, threaten them with death or shut down newspapers for this reason,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

In addition to the journalists arrested in Algeria and Yemen, another 12 reporters in five countries are being prosecuted for printing the cartoons, the Paris-based group said. It appealed for all the charges to be dropped.

The group earlier said a Syrian writer had also been arrested over the cartoons, but later said he was being held for other reasons.

The group also demanded a reprieve for 13 publications that have been closed or suspended for running the cartoons, in Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Yemen, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The drawings of the prophet were first printed by a Danish newspaper last fall and many newspapers, mostly in Europe, have reprinted them in the name of press freedom.

It is primarily Muslim countries that are sanctioning their media for republishing them. The only European newspaper known to have suffered punishment for reprinting the caricatures was the French daily France Soir, whose director was fired by the paper’s Egyptian owner after it republished them.

Many Muslims hold that representations of the prophet are forbidden.

Several people have died in violent protests in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the drawings, and Western embassies and businesses have been vandalised and burned.

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