Editors given two-month jail sentences for publishing Prophet cartoons

New York, May 31, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the sentencing Tuesday of two Jordanian editors to two months in prison for publishing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Jihad Momani, former editor-in-chief of the weekly Shihan, and Hashem al-Khalidi, editor-in-chief of the weekly Al-Mehwar, were found guilty by an Amman court of violating Article 278 of the penal code. The article outlaws publication of material likely to offend religious feelings or beliefs. Both editors have been released on bail pending appeal. Under the penal code an appeals court can replace a jail sentence of up to three months with a fine.

The editors said they did not intend to offend Muslims, but reproduced the cartoons to criticize the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that first published them. According to The Associated Press, al-Momani signed a Shihan editorial titled, “Muslims of the world, be reasonable,” which questioned what sparked worldwide Muslim uproar in January, several months after the drawings appeared. Al-Mehwar was the first to publish the cartoons on January 26, with Shihan, a widely circulated independent weekly, following a week later. Al-Momani was fired on February 3.

“We are alarmed by the two-month prison sentences handed down to Jihad Momani and Hashem al-Khalidi,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “These journalists should not be prosecuted for what they published, even if many people were offended.”

The cartoon controversy began last September when Jyllands-Posten published 12 drawings of Muhammad, one of them depicting the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse. The publication caused anger in the Muslim world, where many consider depictions of Muhammad to be blasphemous. The cartoons gained increased attention after they were reprinted in the January 10 edition of Magazinet, a small Christian evangelical weekly based in Norway.