‘Muhammad cartoon not racial agitation’

A cartoon depicting Prophet Muhammad as a dog, published in a local Swedish newspaper in August, did not constitute incitement to racial hatred, Sweden's justice chancellor ruled on Thursday.

Three Swedish Muslim organizations had asked Justice Chancellor Göran Lambertz – the only official in Sweden entitled to indict in cases concerning freedom of the press – to press charges of incitement to racial hatred against the newspaper Nerikes Allehanda and its editor-in-chief Ulf Johansson.

The paper published the cartoon to illustrate a leader on the importance of freedom of speech.

Lambertz noted that for the charge to stick, it needed to be proven that “contempt” was expressed.

“Neither the leader nor the sketch, which has a satirical tone, expresses contempt against any ethnic group,” he said in a statement.

“While many practicing Muslims may perceive primarily the cartoon as offensive, neither the content of the article nor the cartoon can be considered as crossing the line of what is permissible within the freedom of the press,” he said.

“The justice chancellor will therefore not pursue the matter.”

The cartoon featuring Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body was originally published in Nerikes Allehanda on August 18 and provoked protests by Muslims in the town of Örebro, west of Stockholm, where the paper is based.

Idolatry is blasphemous in Islam and the depiction of Muhammad in any pictorial form is strictly forbidden.

Egypt, Iran and Pakistan lodged formal complaints with the Swedish government, prompting Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt to meet with more than 20 ambassadors from Muslim countries to try to cool tensions.

At the weekend, an Al-Qaeda front organization in Iraq, the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq, issued a statement on the Internet offering $150,000 dollars to anyone who slit the throat of the artist who drew the sketch, Lars Vilks.

It also offered $50,000 for the death of Johansson.

The group also threatened to strike at top Swedish firms such as telecom giant Ericsson, truckmakers Scania and Volvo, furniture company IKEA and Electrolux, which manufactures white goods, if the country’s “crusaders” did not offer an apology.