Feb. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Singapore won't allow the publication of a controversial sequence of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said late Thursday, condemning the caricatures as
Maintaining racial harmony is a higher priority than freedom of expression, Lee said in broad-ranging comments in a meeting with community leaders. He also warned Singapore remains a ``key target'' for terrorist attacks, according to a transcript of his remarks published in the Straits Times.
Cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, first published in a Danish newspaper in September and subsequently reprinted in newspapers around the world, have sparked protests in which more than 10 people have died. Islam, followed by about 14 percent of Singapore's population, bans the visual depiction of the prophet, and Muslims were especially angered that one of the caricatures showed him wearing a turban shaped like a bomb.
``It's wrong, it's provocative. We would not have allowed in Singapore,'' Lee said in the two-hour dialogue yesterday with 1,700 community leaders and students. ``It was wrong for the Danish newspapers to publish the pictures, it was wrong for the other European newspapers to say, in solidarity, I will republish.''
Neighboring Malaysia, where three fifths of the population follow Islam, has also condemned the caricatures. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi suspended the permit of The Sarawak Press Sdn. after its Sarawak Tribune newspaper reprinted the cartoons, Malaysian state-owned Bernama News Agency reported late Thursday.
French Muslim leaders yesterday condemned the violence that followed the reprinting of the caricatures in France, though they will sue newspapers that carried the cartoons. The offending images were first carried in September by Jyllands- Posten in Denmark.
The Sarawak Tribune has apologized for republishing the caricatures, claiming a lone editor -- who has since resigned -- was responsible. The editor in question has said a superior cleared the offending page after he prepared it, the New Straits Times reported Wednesday.
Still, at a meeting on Thursday, ``all the Cabinet members, including non-Muslim ministers, described the reproduction as an irresponsible and insensitive act that warranted stern action,'' Bernama reported.
Singapore's Lee said that, in some circumstances, the maintenance of religious harmony is more important than freedom of expression. He cited the example of the city's ban on ``The Satanic Verses,'' the novel by Salman Rushdie that incensed many Muslims and led Iran's former spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to sentence the author to death.
``In 1989, when Salman Rushdie wrote a book `Satanic Verses,' which many Muslims found very objectionable, we banned it,'' Lee said. ``People say, ``where is the freedom of expression?' We say maintaining harmony, peace, that's the first requirement.''
Singapore, which was expelled from a federation with Malaysia in 1965, was subject to communal violence in the 1960s and has since worked to avoid racial tensions. Unlike Southeast Asian neighbors Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, the city has so far managed to avoid terrorist attacks by Islamist groups, though it has been the subject of several plots.
Indonesia last week deported Mas Selamat bin Kastari, known as Singapore's most-wanted man, to the city-state. The Singapore government said Mas Selamat planned to crash a plane into Singapore's Changi airport. It hasn't said whether he denies the allegations.
Singapore has ``hardened'' potential terrorist targets such as hotels and entertainment areas, Lee said, comparing the threats with those it faced with communism and gang fights as the country became independent four decades
``Today's security problem is by far the most serious since the '50s and '60s,'' Lee said in the speech. In the event of a terrorist attack, ``it's not just the casualties and the physical damage, but the impact on our social fabric which will be severe and long-lasting.''