The City Court in Aarhus today rejected a lawsuit brought by seven Danish Muslim groups claiming that the 12 drawings printed in Jyllands-Posten were intended to insult the prophet and make a mockery of Islam.
While the cartoons may have offended some Muslims, there was no basis for claiming that the newspaper sought to belittle their faith, the court said.
Carsten Juste, Jyllands-Posten’s editor-in-chief, hailed the decision as a victory for free speech. “Anything but a pure acquittal would have been a disaster for press freedom and the media’s possibility to fulfil its duties in a democratic society,” he said.
The Muslim groups behind the lawsuit said they would appeal.
Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons on September 30, 2005 with an accompanying text saying it was challenging a perceived self-censorship among artists afraid to offend Islam.
One of the cartoons showed Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a burning fuse. Another portrayed him holding a sword and a third pictured a middle-aged prophet standing in the desert with a walking stick, in front of a donkey and a sunset.
The seven Muslim groups filed the defamation lawsuit against the paper in March, after Denmark’s top prosecutor declined to press criminal charges, saying the drawings did not violate laws against racism or blasphemy.
The groups, who claimed to have the backing of 20 more Islamic organizations in the country, had sought 100,000 Danish Kroner ( £9,000) in damages from Mr Juste and Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten’s comment editor, who supervised the cartoon project.
The lawsuit said the cartoons depict Muhammad as “belligerent, oppressing women, criminal, crazy and unintelligent, and a connection is made between the Prophet and war and terror”.
It said the drawings were published “solely to provoke and mock not only the prophet Muhammad but also the Muslim population.
Islamic law forbids any depiction of the prophet, even positive ones, in order to prevent idolatry.
The cartoons were reprinted in European papers in January and February this year, fueling protests across the Islamic world. Some turned violent, with protesters killed in Libya and Afghanistan and several European embassies attacked.