Iranian embassy calls for apology over Prophet Mohammed cartoon reprints

The Iranian embassy in Prague has demanded an apology from two Czech newspapers. A few days ago, to illustrate articles on the debate, they both reprinted one of the fourteen Danish cartoons that sparked off protest in much of the Muslim world. The papers insist they have nothing to apologise for.

Protests against the cartoons around the world show no sign of abating, leaving both print and television media facing a dilemma. Should they publish some of the cartoons to illustrate what the protests are about at the risk of offending the Muslim community, or should they leave it to the reader's imagination? The Czech newspapers Hospodarske Noviny and Mlada fronta Dnes opted for the former and printed small reproductions of one of the cartoons at the beginning of this month. It was a caricature of Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. Petr Simunek is the editor-in-chief of the country's leading business paper Hospodarske Noviny:

"I think it's a pity that the reprint caused offence to some but everyone needs to understand that when we refer to something we have to tell and show our readers what it is about."

But this argument has not gone down well with the Iranian government, which sent a letter - via its chargé d'affaires in Prague - to the two Czech newspapers demanding an apology. Radio Prague asked the Iranian embassy in Prague to comment, but was turned down:

"This embassy is not going to make any further comments on this issue. The editors' offices received our letter and that's it. They gave their views and this embassy is not going to give any more I said before."

Iran has also sent a diplomatic note to the Czech Foreign Ministry. The majority of Czech politicians appear to condemn the cartoons but Czech government says it cannot and will not tell the media what to do. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda:

"I live in a free country and I am not here to suggest to anyone to do anything. I reiterate that the reaction to the caricatures - which I do agree are tasteless - is totally out of proportion."

The Danish paper Jyllands Posten which commissioned the caricatures and was the first to publish them officially apologised to the Muslim community on Thursday. The Czech newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes does not plan to do the same but would welcome discussion on the issue with the Iranian chargé d'affaires in Prague. Viliam Buchert is deputy editor-in-chief at Mlada fronta Dnes:

Photo: CTK
"Our editor-in-chief has sent a reply to the Iranian embassy, where he explains that the reprints were not intended to cause offence. He adds that our newspaper has always been careful not to print anything that could offend people of any religion. We have not increased security here - everyone talked about it in the office but I don't think there are any fears."

It is unlikely that violent protests will break out in the Czech Republic but the country's foreign missions may be at risk. The Czech Army on Thursday stepped up security in Afghanistan, where Czech soldiers serve with Germans and Danes. Earlier this week, a group of Islamic fundamentalists in the northern town of Feyzabad tried to gain access to the unit. They were most likely motivated by a promise made by Afghanistan's Taliban to reward anyone who kills a German, Danish, or Norwegian soldier with 5 kilograms of gold.