U.N.'s Ban says free speech must respect religion

UNITED NATIONS Wed Feb 20, 2008 2:42pm EST

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to members of the media at U.N. headquarters in New York, February 17, 2008. REUTERS/Keith Bedford

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to members of the media at U.N. headquarters in New York, February 17, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Keith Bedford

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed his predecessor's line on cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday, saying free speech should respect religious sensitivities.

"The Secretary-General strongly believes that freedom of expression should be exercised responsibly and in a way that respects all religious beliefs," his spokeswoman Marie Okabe told reporters.

The cartoon issue has returned to prominence after Denmark's five major daily newspapers last week republished one of 12 drawings of the Prophet that angered Muslims around the world in 2006.

They did so as a protest against a plot to murder one of the cartoonists who originally published the drawings in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Most Muslims consider depictions of the Prophet offensive.

In a statement two years ago at the height of the cartoon uproar, the spokesman for then secretary-general Kofi Annan said Annan "believes that the freedom of the press should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions."

In the last few days, Danish lawmakers have canceled a trip to Iran, the Egyptian government has protested to the Danish ambassador in Cairo and Indonesian Muslims have demonstrated outside the Danish Embassy in Jakarta over the cartoons.