7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
World News

Cartoons mar free-speech rally

LONDON: About 200 people held a free-speech demonstration in central London yesterday, with several carrying posters of the controversial Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.

On Thursday, protest organisers had withdrawn their open invitation for the protesters to display the cartoons.

Peter Risdon, an organiser of the March for Free Expression, initially had announced that he would allow protesters to display banners and wear T-shirts depicting those images.

However, he later withdrew the invitation posted on the rally's website, asking demonstrators not to show the cartoons out of fear their display would alienate sympathetic Muslims and give credibility to a far-right political group, the British National Party, which has used the cartoons as a rallying cry.

"The principle of freedom of expression is used by some as a Trojan horse, as a proxy for racism and Islamophobia," Risdon wrote. "Not by me. Not by us. Not by this campaign."

The decision sparked hundreds of angry responses on the website by those planning to attend the march, many of whom deemed Risdon's change of heart as political censorship.

That anger also was evident in Trafalgar Square.

"It's my freedom, everyone's freedom, to expose these pictures and encourage everyone to do the same," said protester Reza Moradi, 29, who identified himself as an Iranian who has lived in Britain for eight years.

Other demonstrators showed their support for the cartoons by carrying signs saying "Stop 'toonophobia'," or draping themselves in Danish flags.

Nine bearded Muslim men arrived at the protest wearing army fatigues and black-and-white head scarves. They were escorted away from the protest by about two dozen of the police officers who were at the scene. Similar cartoon-related protests in London have died down in recent weeks compared with last month. Organisers estimated the crowd at 40,000.

click on image to view the digital edition