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Malaysia suspends newspaper for publishing picture of Jesus holding cigarette

Malaysia suspends newspaper for publishing picture of Jesus holding cigarette

Malaysia's government ordered a Tamil-language daily to immediately halt publication for a month Friday as punishment for printing an image of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette, a newspaper official said.
S.M. Periasamy, general manager of Makkal Osai, which caters to Malaysia's ethnic Indian minority, said his office received the directive by fax from the Internal Security Ministry.
"Of course we are shocked by this. My entire staff are all in tears. They will lose a month of income," Periasamy said, adding that the newspaper would abide by the order for now, though it plans to appeal the suspension.
Ministry officials in this Muslim-majority nation could not immediately be reached for comment.
The newspaper had said it published the photo by mistake Tuesday and carried a front-page apology Thursday.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Thursday that the picture was hurtful and an insult to Christians.
Ethnic Indians comprise 10 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people, and are mostly Hindus with a sprinkling of Christians and Muslims; Chinese, who follow Christianity and Buddhism, are 25 percent; Malay Muslims are 60 percent.
Malaysia's newspapers operate under government licenses that bar them from publishing potentially provocative material on religion, race and other topics.
On Thursday, Periasamy said a graphic artist _ who has since been suspended _ downloaded a picture of Jesus from the Internet for use along with a quote from the Bible on the paper's front page on Tuesday.
But the artist overlooked the fact that the picture had been altered to insert a cigarette in one hand and another object _ a can or a book _ in the other, he said.
Kuala Lumpur archbishop, Murphy Pakiam, criticized the picture as a "desecration," but later accepted the newspaper's apology.
The Malaysian Indian Congress, a party in Malaysia's ruling coalition, had called on the government to close the paper, which is generally critical of the MIC.
Makkal Osai is one of two Tamil-language newspapers catering to Malaysia's largely Tamil-speaking ethnic Indians. The other newspaper is aligned with the MIC.