Publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005 continued to stir impassioned debate in Demark in 2006. Three journalists on the Berlingske Tidende were also prosecuted for “undermining state security,” which threatened to create an unfortunate precedent in a country with one of the world’s best records for press freedom.
Publication by the daily Jyllands-Posten of 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on 30 September 2005 sparked a huge crisis between Denmark and Muslim countries and quickly spread to other European states, some of whose media outlets reprinted them in solidarity. Jyllands-Posten editor Carsten Juste formally apologised to Muslims on 30 January 2006 on the paper’s behalf, but this was not enough to avoid a bomb scare and evacuation of the building shared by the paper and the Danish news agency Ritzau.
Prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who had originally defended freedom of expression, yielded to heavy pressure and implicitly deplored publication of the cartoons. But Flemming Rose, cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, defended on 19 February his decision to publish the cartoons in the first place as a legitimate journalistic subject and said he opposed the media giving special treatment to Islam. He was later sent on indefinite leave by the paper.
Denmark’s excellent reputation for press freedom was threatened when two journalists of the daily Berlingske Tidende were prosecuted in April 2006 for publishing extracts in February and March 2004 from a Danish intelligence service report saying there was no serious evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The supposed existence of them was used by the Danish government to justify its participation in the US occupation of Iraq. The two journalists, Michael Bjerre and Jesper Larsen, were charged with “publishing material illegally obtained by a third party.” Frank Grevil, the military intelligence officer who passed on the report to them, was given a four-month prison sentence in 2005.
The charges against the two journalists were increased in April 2006 and the paper’s editor, Niels Lunde, was also charged. All three went on trial in November for “undermining state security” and faced up to two years in prison. They were cleared on 4 December to the relief of the country’s media. The case emphasises how secrecy of journalistic sources is crucial to press freedom in Europe.