A Jordanian court has begun blasphemy proceedings against Danish artist Kurt Westergaard for a controversial cartoon he drew of the Prophet Mohammed.
“A court in Amman began today the trial in absentia of those who insulted the Prophet, including Westergaard and Danish newspapers which published his offensive cartoon,” said Tareq Hawamdeh, lawyer for local journalists and activists who brought the suit. The proceeding started on April 25.
“Judge Nathir Shehadeh adjourned the trial until May 8 to hear the witnesses,” Mr. Hawamdeh said in a statement.
In 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran a feature with several different artists’ drawings under the heading “Faces of Mohammed.” The most controversial of the cartoons was Mr. Westergaard’s depicting the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban.
The Jordanian court subpoenaed Mr. Westergaard on April 14 after accusing him of committing “the crime of blasphemy.”
A Jordanian prosecutor summoned Mr. Westergaard for questioning that year after 30 independent newspapers, Websites and radio stations in Jordan sued him over the cartoon, which was published in at least 17 Danish dailies, sparking violent protests in a number of Muslim countries, including Jordan.
“These judicial steps should serve to prevent future attempts to insult Islam and stir up racial hatred towards Muslims across the world, particularly in Europe,” said Zakarya Sheikh, a spokesperson for the group of local media who is suing Mr. Westergaard.
Mr. Sheikh, who is the editor of an Islamic weekly newspaper in Jordan, sued Mr. Westergaard in 2008, saying: “I will do everything in my power to bring him to trial. He deserves the harshest punishment available within the law.”
Mr. Westergaard, 75, told Agence France-Press after the subpoena that “I have not heard about this trial and have not been informed.”
“In any case, I have no intention of going even if I am asked to,” he said, adding, “I do not want to risk becoming familiar with the Jordanian prisons, which would be hell.”
Jordanian legislators have demanded that the government sever ties with Denmark. Amman has condemned the caricature, warning that it could spark further extremism and harm relations between Denmark and Muslim countries.
In 2010 a man with ties to Somalia’s hard-line Islamist group al-Shabab was arrested after attempting to kill Mr. Westergaard in his home with an axe.
Mr. Westergaard is currently living under around-the-clock police protection.
He insists that his cartoon, which caused international uproar, has been misunderstood.
According to Mr. Westergaard, the drawing was not of The Prophet as it is commonly referred to but was instead meant to represent a potential terrorist.
“The drawing shows that there are terrorists who use aspects of Islam as their spiritual ammunition,” he told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper. “That’s what the drawing shows and that’s what I’ve always said it showed.”
Although it was Jyllands-Posten that gave the cartoon series its title, Mr. Westergaard blames many Islamic clerics for creating the inflammatory situation that arose from the drawings’ publication.
“The overall theme of the series was [Prophet] Mohammed,” Mr. Westergaard acknowledged. “But many of the other drawings also depicted things other than [The Prophet]. I just chose to draw a terrorist. But it was a perfect opportunity for imams and other Islamic authorities, who operate using hate as the fuel to arouse common feelings, to say it was [The Prophet] Mohammed.”
(Sara Ghasemilee of Al Arabiya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)