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China demands apology over satirical cartoon in Danish newspaper

The Chinese national flag. (Flickr/Gary Lerude)
January 29, 2020

The Chinese embassy demanded an apology for a Danish newspaper’s satirical illustration of the Chinese flag with the coronavirus particles in place of the yellow stars on Monday.

Embassy officials released a statement on Tuesday demanding the apology from newspaper Jyllands-Posten, saying it has crossed an ethical boundary, Reuters reported.

“Without any sympathy and empathy, it has crossed the bottom line of civilized society and the ethical boundary of free speech and offends human conscience,” the embassy said.

Jyllands-Posten has a history of publishing satirical cartoons that offend large groups of people.

In 2005, it published an illustration of Islam’s prophet, Muhammed with a bomb around his headscarf, resulting in death threats, worldwide outrage from the Muslim community and even planned acts of terrorism.

Jylannds-Posten previously published the same satirical cartoon of Muhammed that French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, did in 2006; that resulted in an Islamic terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s Paris office that killed 12 people.

Thousands of people worldwide have been infected with the Wuhan coronavirus and more than 130 people have died so far.

Jylannds-Posten editor-in-chief Jacob Nybroe denied making fun of the coronavirus outbreak and blamed China’s outrage on cultural differences.

“We can’t apologize for something we don’t think is wrong. We have no intention of demeaning or mocking, nor do we think the drawing does,” Nybroe said on Tuesday, according to Reuters. “As far as I can see, there are two different forms of cultural understanding here.”

In an article posted on the newspaper’s website, Nybroe said Jylannds-Posten had “no intention of being offensive, but although we might empathize with the reactions to the drawing, it does not form the basis for our editing of the newspaper.”

China’s demand has sparked support for the newspaper from Danish politicians.

“China’s reaction is a sad repetition of the principle of the Mohammed crisis. China should NOT claim an apology for the media’s editorial line. Full support for JP [Jylannds-Posten],” Conservative Party leader Soren Pape Poulsen wrote on Twitter.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen defended Jylannds-Posten’s right to publish the illustration, saying on Tuesday prior to a Social Democratic parliamentary party meeting that it is protected by freedom of speech.

“I have nothing else to say about it other than that we have a very, very strong tradition in Denmark, not only for free speech, but also for satirical drawings, and that will continue in the future as well. It is a well-known Danish position, and we won’t change that,” she said according to a report by The Local DK.

“I just want to say from Denmark and the Danish government’s side, all we have to say is that we have freedom of expression in Denmark — also to draw,” Frederiksen added. “I don’t think anyone is uncertain about how Denmark works in terms of free speech.”

Prior to a meeting in Brussels, Denmark’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jeppe Kofod, also defended the newspaper.

“We have freedom of speech and assembly in Denmark, and it is not for me to debate satirical drawings or comment on this. It is known that we have (free speech), and that is also clear to the Chinese,” Kofod said.