AARHUS, Denmark, Oct 26 (Reuters) A court ruled today that a Danish newspaper did not libel Muslims by printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that unleashed a storm of protests in the Islamic world.
Seven Danish Muslim organisations brought the case, saying the paper had libelled them with the images, which included one depicting the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, by implying Muslims were terrorists.
Jyllands-Posten, which published the 12 drawings in September last year, hailed the ruling, saying any other outcome would have been a catastrophe for a free press.
The cartoons were reprinted elsewhere and at least 50 people were killed as angry Muslims rioted in the Middle East and Asia.
Three Danish embassies were attacked and many Muslims boycotted Danish goods.
Many Muslims believe it is blasphemous to depict the Prophet.
''Of course it cannot be excluded that the drawings offended some Muslims,'' the Aarhus court said in its ruling. ''But there is no sufficient reason to assume that the cartoons are or were intended to be insulting ... or put forward ideas that could hurt the standing of Muslims in society.'' The court ordered the seven organisations to pay the paper's court expenses. The plaintiffs have appealed to a higher court.
''Anything but a clear acquittal would have been a catastrophe for freedom of the press and the media's ability to fulfil its role in a democratic society,'' Jyllands-Posten editor Carsten Juste said on the paper's Website.
''You can think what you want about the cartoons, but the newspaper's unassailable right to print them has been set by both the country's prosecutors and the court system.'' The ruling said some of the cartoons did not depict the Prophet or have a religious subject, while others fell outside the scope of defamation laws.
But the court did find that three of the cartoons fell within what the law could deem as insulting.
In March, Danish prosecutors declined to press charges against the newspaper under Danish blasphemy and anti-racism laws.
REUTERS DKB RN1816