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Controversial cartoonist detained for two days, may face charges and risk of mob violence

(CRNI/IFEX) - Dutch police arrested a cartoonist whose pen name is Gregorius Nekschot. He was released after two days' detention, on14 May 2008, but may face charges based on a 2005 hate speech complaint filed by Abdul Jabbar van de Ven.

Nekschot's cartoons, overtly anti-authoritarian and anti-religious, are self-published on the Internet and featured in "HP/De Tijd" magazine. As of 18 May, the URL for Nekschot's website draws a 404 ("not found") error message.

As reported by the Associated Press and Dutch press, Nekschot apparently spent two days in detention before being released with a warning that the police "now know who he is." The arrest was based on suspicion of his publishing cartoons offensive to Moslems and people of color, but the prosecutor's office has not confirmed that any specific charges are forthcoming.

All over Europe there have been calls for his arrest to be investigated, because it has the appearance of political grandstanding to appease religious hard-liners. Some in the Netherlands and on blogs are saying that the arrest is reminiscent of the tactics used by the Nazi occupying forces in the Netherlands during World War II.

Dutch Minister of Justice Hirsch Ballin defended the arrest of the cartoonist, saying that it was "a good thing" that the cartoonist's identity was finally made public. CRNI finds it disgraceful that the police and the Justice Minister in particular would reveal the identity of a cartoonist under these circumstances, exposing him to imminent danger from people who have pledged to kill any cartoonist who offends them. It is akin to offering up a sacrificial lamb to appease a mob.

In an earlier interview, Nekchot said that he "was upset with the fact that more and more people are cowed into silence when dealing with Islam." He insisted that his cartoons - many of them sexually explicit and taking on religions, including Islam - were meant to make people laugh.

"People are afraid, but when you laugh you are not afraid, and if you are not afraid, you are free," he said in the interview on Dutch TV in February ( see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pbJHcnE1tk ).

"When will you stop making these kinds of cartoons?" asked the interviewer. "When I'm dead," Nekschot responded.

CRNI finds it shocking and deeply troubling that the Minister of Justice in the Netherlands would be the one to betray the safety and security of one of its citizens, to appease threats of violence.

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