( dpa ) - The editor of a Belarusian newspaper was sentenced on Friday to three years hard labour for publishing cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed.
Aleskander Sdvizhkov, vice editor of the Minsk-based Sgoda newspaper, was found guilty of reprinting cartoons poking fun at Mohammed. The black-and-white panel originally was published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
Belarus' authoritarian government shut down Sgoda, a newspaper outspoken in its criticism of President Aleksander Lukashenko, in March 2006 on charges of provoking religious hatred.
The criminal charge against Sdvizhkov stemmed from a suit filed by the Union of Muslims of Belarus, a little-known and uninfluential organization in the overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian former Soviet republic.
The judge ordered Sdvizhkov to begin his sentence immediately.
Sdvizhkov in remarks to the court called the decision trumped-up and "proof of repression of the press in Belarus."
The Jyllands-Posten's cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet were first made public in September 2005, and touched off widespread criticism of Denmark as an allegedly Islam-phobic country.
Most but not all branches of Islam ban any visual depiction of Mohammed. Some protests against the cartoons around the world escalated into violence, killing dozens.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the cartoon row his country's worst international crisis since World War II.
Svizhkov is nonetheless one of the first media workers actually jailed for having printed the controversial cartoons.
An spokesman for the Jylland-Posten expressed regret at the court decision, telling the Belapan news agency "He (Szizhkov) was just doing his job and committed no crime - the crime was to convict him for it."
"We (at the Jylland-Posten) have monitored very closely how the cartoons were controversial all over the word, but nowhere has a journalist been punished so severely (for publishing the cartoons," he said.
The only other countries where news workers even were fined for making the cartoons public, was in Jordan and Yemen, he said.