KUALA LUMPUR, Reuters
Malaysia’s Muslim-led government slapped a one-month publishing ban on a newspaper on Friday for printing a caricature of Jesus holding a cigarette and a can of beer.
State news agency Bernama quoted the Internal Security Ministry as saying the publishing permit of Tamil-language daily Makkal Osai Tamil would be suspended for a month from Friday.
Malaysia’s devoutly Muslim prime minister, who last year imposed similar bans on two newspapers that published caricatures of Prophet Mohammed, had condemned publication of the Jesus caricature, saying it was unacceptable in a multi-racial society.
The newspaper printed the caricature last Tuesday on its front page with a caption quoting Christ as saying: “If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them.”
The daily’s editor apologized and said the caricature, taken from the Internet, was used to illustrate its quote for the day.
But a local politician swiftly filed a police report, calling it a “threat to national harmony”.
Just over half of Malaysia’s roughly 26 million people are Muslims, almost all of them ethnic Malays, who are deemed to be Muslim by birth. The large non-Muslim minority is largely made up of Buddhists, Hindus and Christians.
Malaysia has maintained peaceful relations between the races and religions since riots in 1969, in which hundreds were killed. Since then, the ruling multi-racial coalition has kept a tight rein on public debate over contentious religious issues.
Some Muslim groups joined church groups this week in calling for action to be taken against the newspaper. Christ is also considered a holy figure in Islam.