VILNIUS - A local paper's decision to reprint the scandalous caricature of the prophet Muhammad has elicited a note of protest from Iran, Lithuania's Foreign Ministry announced last week. The ministry stated in a press release that it had received a note from Iran saying that the cartoons, which first appeared in Denmark and have since been reproduced in several European publications, including Lithuania's Respublika on Feb. 8, have drawn an angry response from Muslims around the world.
The note also said that Muslims cherish their own values, while respecting the prophets and saints of all religions, the ministry reported. The Islamic Republic stated that freedom of the press should not be used as an excuse for insulting other people's religious beliefs.
In response, the Foreign Ministry said it respected all people's religious feelings, but did not vindicate actions aimed at restricting freedom of the press, so it rejected the accusations against Lithuania.
The ministry said that, together with the State Security Department, it held a meeting on Feb. 9 to discuss measures to ensure the safety of Lithuanian citizens both at home and abroad.
Respublika, a daily paper published in both Lithuanian and Russian, is no stranger to controversy. Two years ago it published a series of articles, penned by owner Vitus Tomkus, suggesting that the world was controlled by Jews and gays. The articles received widespread condemnation, including from Lithuania's parliament.
Legal experts said they would look into whether Respublika had violated any ethical norms by reprinting the caricatures.
"Law-enforcement institutions have officially asked experts for conclusions, and further action will depend on what they say," Audronius Azubalis, vice-chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said after a meeting of parliamentary committees with representatives of law-enforcement and diplomatic institutions.
In Azubalis' words, experts are expected to answer if the re-publication kept within Lithuanian law, which prohibit the instigation of racial, ethnic and religious hatred.
"The experts will draw conclusions whether the cartoons insult religious feelings or instigate ethnic hatred, and when the conclusions are available, prosecutors will have their say," said Azubalis.
Under the Constitution, the freedom to express beliefs and disseminate information is incompatible with felonious actions 's instigation of ethnic, racial, religious or social hatred and discrimination.
Lawmakers were also briefed on the readiness of law enforcement authorities to prevent unsanctioned protest rallies in case they are staged in the Baltic state.
State Security Department director Arvydas Pocius said there was no reason to fear an outbreak of violence.
"The situation is under control. We have no information about potential (protest) actions, but the department took all measures to prevent this," he said.
In his words, measures have been taken to "protect objects and persons who might be subjected to this, to prevent consequences analogous to those in other countries."
Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said security at Lithuania's diplomatic missions had been stepped up in "hot spots" around the world.
"The security of embassies is guaranteed, awareness has been increased in Cairo, Ankara and Copenhagen, as well as the consulate in Chicago, which is located close to the Danish consulate where protest actions will be held," Valionis said.
Following a wave of protests over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the press of Denmark and Norway, the Danish and Norwegian embassies in the Syrian capital of Damascus were set on fire, followed by a blaze in the Danish consulate in Lebanon.
In Damascus, some protestors attempted to storm the Embassy of France after a French newspaper re-published the caricatures. The protest actions have claimed over a dozen lives.
The scandalous caricatures, which first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, included images depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a Bedouin carrying a knife or a terrorist with a bomb-shaped turban.