The latest issue of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has ignited controversy in the Middle East and elsewhere due to a caricature of the prophet Muhammad depicted on its cover.
Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed the journal's central Paris headquarters last week and murdered 12 people, they said to avenge the publication's regular lampooning of Muhammad. Many Muslims regard depictions of the Prophet as blasphemous and the decision to again publish a cartoon of Muhammed has caused widespread debate.
The cartoon itself depicts the Prophet shedding a tear while holding a sign that says "Je suis Charlie" — the slogan which has become popular around the world as a declaration of solidarity with the victims of the attack — under a headline that reads "All is forgiven." It was drawn by the weekly's cartoonist Luz, who escaped the massacre because he was late arriving for work.
Many hailed it as an important defense of free expression and an act of defiance against the extremists attempting to silence the magazine, while others decried it as a divisive act that was unnecessarily offensive to millions of Muslims. The issue was released Wednesday morning to massive demand and was an instant sellout.
Turkish lawmakers blocked online access to media outlets depicting the image and prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused a local newspaper of "sedition" for publishing the cartoon.
On Wednesday a court in southern Diyarbakir ordered that all access to websites showing the cartoon be banned, after a lawyer filed a complaint describing them as a risk to "public order" and said insulting the prophet was not a matter of media freedom.
However, on Thursday afternoon the caricature could be seen on the website of at least one Turkish media outlet, T24.
Turkish police stopped trucks carrying copies of Wednesday's edition of secularist daily Cumhuriyet, which included a four-page selection of material from the new Charlie Hebdo, according to local media. The trucks were only allowed to proceed once police decided the prophet was not depicted in the selection. However, two columnists did head their sections with small pictures of the cartoon and it is not clear whether these were overlooked.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Davutoglu slammed the decision to publish the cartoon. "The freedom of the press does not mean the freedom to insult," he said, according to AFP. Davutoglu was one of at least 40 world leaders to take part in a massive unity rally in Paris on Sunday condemning the Charlie Hebdo attacks and promoting freedom of expression.
Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Utku Cakirozer defended the decision in a statement. "While preparing this selection, we respected societies' freedoms of faith and religious sensitivities," he said, adding on Twitter that publishing the material was a gesture of solidarity. "Cumhuriyet, which has lost its own staff to terrorist attacks, understands the pain of the Charlie Hebdo massacre very well," he wrote on the social media site. The paper's reporter Ugur Mumcu was killed in a 1993 car bomb attack, while six of its other journalists were murdered in the 1990s.
Cumhuriyet has reportedly received a number of threats since announcing it's decision to publish Charlie Hebdo content and extra security has been stationed outside the newspaper's offices and printing press.
Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office has now launched an investigation into Cumhuriyet on charges of defamation and inciting hatred, local media reported on Thursday. A number of pro-government media outlets have launched campaigns against the paper. Members of Davutoglu's Justice and Development Party have also slammed the weekly.
In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gave Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab powers to ban foreign publications deemed offensive to religion on Tuesday, government owned Al-Ahram reported.
Some of the country's prominent Muslim leaders have condemned the caricature. Egypt's foremost Islamic authority, the Grand Mufti, described the Muhammad cartoon as "racist," while the state-backed Islamic authority Dar al-Ifta said it was "an unjustified provocation to the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide."
However, the seat of Sunni scholarship Al-Azhar University said in a statement on Wednesday that Egyptians should ignore what it described as a "nasty frivolity."
Sisi has presented himself as the man who saved Egypt from violent Islamists but the country's courts have recently issued jail sentences on charges of atheism and "insulting Islam."
The so-called Islamic State, an extremist militant group that operates in Iraqi and Syria condemned the decision to publish the image as "extremely stupid."
"Charlie Hebdo has again published cartoons insulting the prophet and this is an extremely stupid act," the group said in a statement on its Albayan radio broadcast from its self-declared "caliphate" that spans parts of Iraq and Syria.
Newspapers in the region from Jordan to Algeria have also criticized the paper, as did Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. "We believe that sanctities need to be respected, and unless we learn to respect one another, it will be very difficult in a world of different views and different cultures and civilizations," he said at a Geneva press conference, according to AFP.
Elsewhere, Senegalese lawmakers banned the issue from being distributed along with left-wing French daily Liberation, which also included cartoon of the prophet, local APS news agency reported, quoting an interior ministry statement as saying, "It is forbidden to distribute and disseminate, by any means today's editions of the French magazine "Charlie Hebdo" and the French newspaper 'Liberation' throughout whole of the national territory."
Senegal's President Macky Sall also attended Sunday's unity march.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov called for a massive rally demonstrating against the cartoon. "We sincerely love the Prophet Muhammad! We have to pray, live, raise children, work for the sake of Allah! Today, some people without kith or kin, spiritual and moral values are trying to offend the honor of the Prophet. They will never succeed in it!," he said in a post on Instagram, a favored tool of mass communications for the leader.
In Europe, the French Council of the Muslim Faith appealed for restraint and the Union of Islamic Organizations of France called on the country's Muslim community to "remain calm and avoid emotional reactions."
Over 50 Muslim leaders in the UK wrote a joint open letter acknowledging the potential for offense, but urging calm and restraint. "Our reaction must be a reflection of the teachings of the gentle and merciful character of the Prophet (peace be upon him)," the letter read. British radical preacher Anjem Choudray said the depiction of the Prophet was "an act of war" which would lead to "repercussions."
Pope Francis appeared to criticize the cover, saying that there should be limits to freedom of expression when it is used to insult someone's faith. Speaking with reporters from the papal plane while flying to the Philippines he advocated free speech as both a right and essential part of common good, but said free speech should be tempered by respect for others' beliefs, the Associated Press reported. "You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."
The Vatican had previously issued a joint declaration in conjunction with four prominent French imams condemning the attacks but saying media should respect different religions.