Turkey on Thursday condemned the publication of cartoons of the Muslim prophet as an “open provocation,” warning that it would not tolerate insults of Mohammed in the controversy over the post-attacks Charlie Hebdo issue.
“Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to insult,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara before heading for talks with EU leaders in Brussels.
His comments came day after leading Turkish daily Cumhuriyet and Turkish websites published cartoons featuring the prophet from the first issue of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after the attack on its offices on January 7 that left 12 people dead.
The publications revived a controversy over freedom of speech in officially secular Turkey which has been run for over a decade by an Islamic-leaning government and pious Muslim Recep Tayyip Erdogan, first as premier and now president.
“We do not allow any insult to the prophet in this country,” Davutoglu said.
“As the government, we cannot put side by side the freedom of press and the lowness to insult.”
Davutoglu said people were sensitive about their religion in the overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey and could not be expected to show patience towards insults to the prophet.
“If some print cartoons that insult the prophet — and this is the situation and there is a sensitivity in Turkey — it is a provocation… it is an open provocation.”
– ‘Protect the honour’ –
He said Turkey had squarely condemned the Paris attacks that killed 17 people in total but would fight with equal vehemence against insults to the prophet.
“We are determined to protect the honour of the prophet the same way as we are determined in our stance against terrorism in Paris … It is not correct to link this to the freedom of the press.”
A Turkish court on Wednesday ordered a block on access to websites featuring the latest cover of Charlie Hebdo, after a petition from a single lawyer claiming that the printing of the cartoon had the potential to endanger the public order.
Charlie Hebdo’s new cover, which sold out at newsstands across France, contains a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed — depicted with a tear in his eye, under the headline “All is forgiven” in French and holding a sign saying “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie).
The pull-out edition of Cumhuriyet did not include the controversial front cover but a small version of the cartoon featuring the prophet was included twice inside the newspaper to illustrate columns by commentators on the subject.
Employees at the newspaper said their telephones did not stop ringing throughout the day and they received death threats.
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 and which the opposition now fears Erdogan is eroding.
Many Muslims consider images of the prophet, not least ones satirising him, to be blasphemous under 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.
Dozens of Muslims staged an angry protest against the paper in Istanbul, brandishing slogans like “Our dear Prophet, don’t be upset, Muslims are with you” and “Cumhuriyet will be brought to account”.
Cairo’s Al-Azhar university, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious centre of learning, had warned that new Mohammed cartoons in Charlie Hebdo will only serve to “stir up hatred” while there was also an angry reaction from Iran and Islamic State (IS) jihadists.