Paper closed for publishing cartoon of world religious figures

New York, February 17, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the closure of a newspaper in the Russian city of Volgograd for publishing a cartoon of leading figures of Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Daily Gorodskiye Vesti (City News), which is partly owned by the Volgograd city administration, ran a cartoon on February 9 depicting Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad.

Acting Mayor Andrei Doronin told a news conference today those responsible for publishing the cartoon would be fired and the rest of the staff transferred to a new publication. Doronin said the closure of the paper was an attempt to prevent incitement based on religious or ethnic grounds, the business daily Kommersant reported

In the cartoon Moses, Buddha, Christ and Muhammad are shown watching a television image of two angry crowds about to fight each other. The caption reads, “That’s not what we taught you.”
“The point of the cartoon,” said Gorodskiye Novosti editor, Tatyana Kaminskaya, “was that regardless of which faith someone belongs to, they should not fight or go to war with one another,” The Moscow Times quoted her saying.

The closure comes amid worldwide protests sparked by the publication in September 2005 by the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten of 12 cartoons of Muhammad. Depictions of the Prophet are viewed by many Muslims as blasphemous.

The Volgograd Prosecutor-General’s Office said on Wednesday that it was investigating a complaint against Gorodskiye Novosti filed by the Volgograd regional branch of the pro-Kremlin party United Russia. The party said its office had received calls from party members, complaining about the allegedly racist character of the drawing. However, neither Gorodskiye Novosti nor the Volgograd city administration had received similar complaints, the daily Moscow Times said.
The city administration did not say which religion or ethnic group had been offended by the cartoon.

“We condemn the closure of Gorodskiye Vesti as unjustified,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the Volgograd city administration to reverse its decision and reinstate the dismissed journalists.”