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Sweden17 September 2007

Support reaffirmed for artist who got "barbaric" death threat from Islamist group

Reporters Without Borders today repeated its firm support for Swedish artist Lars Vilks and the editor, Ulf Johansson, who have received death threats from an Islamic fundamentalist group in Iraq after publication last month of a cartoon showing a dog with the head of the prophet Mohammed.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, head of the organisation Islamic State in Iraq, considered the local branch of Al-Qaeda, posted an audio message on the Internet on 15 September calling for Vilks and Johansson to be killed in exchange for rewards of $100,000 and $50,000 respectively. He said an extra $50,000 would be paid if Vilks was “slaughtered like a lamb.”

“Freedom to draw cartoons cannot be taken away by such barbaric fundamentalism,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Making death threats to the author of a cartoon by promising people a reward if they kill them is a shocking lack of humanity that must be soundly condemned.”

“The Swedish authorities and Muslim organisations in Sweden have done everything to calm the situation and head off a major crisis of the kind that erupted after publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in Denmark in September 2005,” it said. “Those making the threats now are pouring oil on the fire.”

“We give Vilks and the editor our total support and call on everyone who stands for freeedom of expression to do the same.”

Baghdadi also demanded an apology from Sweden, on pain of economic measures against major Swedish firms. His threats followed publication of the cartoon by Vilks in a newspaper in Örebro, Nerikes Allehanda, on 17 August.

Several countries, along with Swedish Muslims, have strongly criticised the cartoon. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt apologised for any offence caused but declared his support for freedom of expression.

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