Editor Jailed for Publishing Mohammed Cartoons
On Thursday, the editor of a weekly magazine was sentenced to three years in prison for republishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons. Which Muslim country did this occur in? None. It didn't even happen in Alberta. Instead, this travesty took place in the neo-Soviet eastern European dictatorship of Belarus.
Reporters Sans Frontieres provides the details:
Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the three-year prison sentence passed today by a court in Minsk on Alyaksandr Zdvizhkou, former deputy editor of the weekly Zhoda, for reprinting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that first appeared in a Danish newspaper. He was found guilty of “inciting racial hatred” under article 130 of the criminal code at the end of a trial behind closed doors.(JPEG)
Originally published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, the cartoons were reproduced by Zdvizhkou in the 18 February 2006 issue of Zhoda to illustrate an article about protest movements in the Muslim world. The issue had a print run of 3,050 copies but only 25 per cent were distributed as the editor stopped distribution as soon as he became aware of the cartoons’ inclusion.
The Belarusian KGB immediately raided the newspaper, seizing four of its computers, and judicial proceedings were initiated a few days later. Zdvizhkou, who said the measures were “politically motivated” was originally to have been tried in June 2006, but he fled the country and remained aboard. He was finally arrested on 18 November 2007 when he returned to visit his father’s grave in Barysau, near Minsk.
Why would a secular regime governing a country with only a small Muslim population care about offending Islamic sensibilities? Unfortunately, it appears that this was just a pretext to enable the regime to crackdown on an opposition media outlet. The Committee to Protect Journalists explains:
“Clearly this is just a pretext to punish an independent journalist even after shutting down his publication,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release Aleksandr Sdvizhkov.”
Aleksei Korol, Zgoda’s former editor-in-chief, told CPJ he was shocked by the sentence given to his former colleague. “The court ruling is disproportionate to his actions,” said Korol, whose recently established newspaper Novy Chas—Zgoda’s successor—has also been subject to government prosecution. Korol said he disagreed with Sdvizhkov’s decision to reprint the cartoons alongside the paper’s article chronicling the uproar, adding that Zgoda’s staff apologized to the Belarusian Muslim community at the time.
Belarusian Islamic leader Ismail Voronovich said he wanted authorities to reprimand the journalist, not jail him. “I thought that this case was closed and the newspaper was back working,” The Associated Press quoted Voronovich as saying today.