Malaysian paper sorry over Jesus with cigarette picture


KUALA LUMPUR; August 29, 2007. A Malaysian newspaper has apologized to Roman Catholic archbishop after publishing a front page picture of Jesus Christ clutching a cigarette. The Makkal Osai, a Tamil-language daily, printed the picture earlier in the week, provoking criticism from religious leaders and politicians in multicultural Malaysia. S.M. Periasamy, general manager of the paper, said someone had downloaded the image from the internet to illustrate an article, and did not notice that Jesus appeared to be smoking. "We are sorry for the mistake, but it was a very honest one," he told Agence France-Presse, adding that the person responsible had been suspended. Local media reported that the picture also showed Jesus holding a beer can in one hand, but Periasamy said it was in fact non-alcoholic. He said the paper had written to Murphy Pakiam, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, and he had accepted their apology. They had also explained the mistake to the Malaysian government, he added. "At no time did we mean to downgrade any religion," Periasamy said. The New Straits Times on Thursday quoted the archbishop as saying the image was upsetting to Catholics but that he considered the matter closed. "This caricature of Jesus is a desecration and therefore hurtful to the religious sentiments of Catholics," Pakiam told the paper. A Malaysian Indian Congress party member lodged a police complaint saying the picture threatened national harmony, the New Straits Times reported, while MIC Youth urged the prime minister`s officer to ban the paper. The picture was used to illustrate an article on the sayings of great leaders, and ran with the quote: "If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them," the New Straits Times said. More than 60 percent of Malaysia`s 27 million people are Muslim Malays and Islam is the official religion. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion for the minority Buddhists, Hindus and Christians, but religious minority groups have recently expressed fear that their rights are being undermined

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