Religion, Politics and Asia's Press


When Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad at the end of September 2005, the world did not react right away. The most infamous of the controversial cartoons depicts the Islamic Prophet with a bomb in his turban, while another shows him standing on a cloud telling suicide bombers, "Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins!"

For many Muslims, representing the Prophet in pictures, let alone insulting him, is extremely offensive.

While Muslim organizations in Denmark protested the cartoons soon after they were published, it was not until a group of imams began pleading their case in the Middle East that the controversy took global form. Toward the end of 2005, protests by Muslims began in the Middle East and Asia.

In January 2006, many newspapers, particularly in Europe, began reprinting the cartoons as a statement for free speech. By February, the protests had taken hold in many Asian countries as well.

AsiaMedia focuses on reactions to the Prophet cartoons in the six Asian countries most affected: Bangladesh, Hong Kong (SAR of China), India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan. The protests in these countries have attracted the most attention among international media and in intellectual discussion in Asia. We examine each country's response in the context of press laws related to the discussion of religion, particularly with regard to Islam.

In most of these countries, the stringency of blasphemy laws -- or lack thereof -- has greatly influenced the nature of the debates. Responses from prominent political and religious leaders and commentaries from local media also exemplified, fueled or tempered each country's reaction.


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