01/16/2015, 00.00
RUSSIA

Moscow warns media against religious-themed cartoons

Nina Achmatova
Russian authorities warn that offending religious feelings may violate the country's anti-extremism laws. Meanwhile in Chechnya, Kadyrov plans a mass rally against the cartoons, warning that Russian Muslims will not be patient forever.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Russia's communications watchdog Roskomnadzor issued a warning to the country's media on Friday against publishing religious-themed cartoons. Its statement, which does not contain a ban, comes after regional branches began issuing statements about coming bans.

Whilst Russian authorities expressed solidarity with the opponents of extremism and terrorism, it said that the media of the Federation Russian should not publish cartoons that may violate the law.

In its statement, Roskomnadzor warned that offensive cartoons in the media could be qualified as violation of existing media and anti-extremism laws.

For Russia's media watchdog, the publication of such cartoons has always had the potential - long before the Charlie Hebdo massage - of offending and denigrating the religious beliefs of others and fostering ethnic or religious strife.

In fact, the St Petersburg-based Business News Agency was told to take down pictures of Charlie Hebdo's latest cover, which features the Prophet Muhammad.

After the Paris attacks, very few in Russia have spoken out in favour of "freedom" to publish religious cartoons.

The Russian Federation is a mosaic of religions and ethnic groups. Muslims are about 7-10 per cent of the population, the second largest religious group after the Orthodox. Some areas, like Tatarstan and the northern Caucasus, have a Muslim majority.

Although the average Russian tends to be very xenophobic and nationalist, given the rising number of Muslims, the Kremlin knows that the country is sitting on a ticking time bomb.

Indeed, in the last fifteen years, Russia has suffered several terrorist attacks linked to Islamic extremist groups in the Caucasus.

In the big cities as in the province, integration is a delicate matter. In more than one occasion, brawls between people of different ethnic background have turned into urban guerrilla.

For their part, Russian authorities have remained cautious over the Charlie Hebdo affair, especially over the concept of "freedom of expression," an issue that might be overflowing in the pages of the Western press but remains a rather touchy issue in Russia.

Instead, Russia's mainstream media have tried to portrait the affair as an American "plot" against France, aimed at French President Nicolas Hollande because of his push for weaker sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian crisis.

In Moscow, government officials have said nothing so far about Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov's planned Saturday rally against the Muhammad cartoons, an event that is backed by local Muslim religious leaders.

Accused by human rights activists of having de facto imposed Islamic law (Sharia) on Chechnya with the Kremlin's tacit approval, Kadyrov warned that "we will not allow anyone to insult the prophet, even if it will cost us our lives." For him, Russian Muslims will not be patient forever.

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