The Conservatives last night called on the police to arrest militant Muslims who threatened Westerners with violence during protests in London over newspaper cartoons that mocked the Prophet Mohammed.
As fanatics—some dressed as suicide bombers—staged more protests yesterday, David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said the police should take action against what were clearly offences of incitement to murder.
At the height of the protests on Friday demonstrators chanted slogans threatening more London bombings, praising the “magnificent” 9/11 hijackers and waving placards saying “Massacre those who insult Islam”, “Europe you will pay” and “Europe you’ll come crawling when Mujahideen come roaring”.
Mr Davis said last night: “Clearly some of these placards are incitement to violence and, indeed, incitement to murder—an extremely serious offence which the police must deal with and deal with quickly.
“Whatever your views on these cartoons, we have a tradition of freedom of speech in this country which has to be protected. Certainly there can be no tolerance of incitement to murder.”
Scotland Yard said a decision not to arrest protesters was taken because of public order fears. It confirmed that police had received more than 100 complaints from the public about the protesters’ behaviour.
On Friday 500 demonstrators marched from Regent’s Park Mosque to the Danish embassy in Knightsbridge to protest at the publication of “blasphemous” cartoons in a Danish newspaper, and subsequently in other countries and on the BBC.
Yesterday, more than 1,000 demonstrators staged a second protest outside the embassy. The only arrests made were of two men found carrying cartoons of Mohammed. Police said they had been detained “to prevent a breach of the peace”.
On Friday police provided a motorcycle and helicopter escort for the protesters. Video cameras recorded the events.
The Tory call for action is in stark contrast to the response from Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who blamed foreign newspapers for stirring up the row by publishing the cartoons.
He said: “Re-publication of the cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong.”
But the Tories defended the right of editors to publish them. Dominic Grieve, the shadow attorney general, said: “From what we know about the cartoons it is understandable that they have caused offence.
“However, the decision as to whether to publish or not is one of taste and decency that should rightly be taken by newspaper editors, broadcasters and their owners and is not one for government.
“Whilst it could be argued that these cartoons were reckless, it is almost certainly the case that they were not intended to stir up hatred.”
As the clamour for action grew, police sources said there were no arrests on Friday because of fears of a riot. A senior Scotland Yard officer said: “We have to take the overall nature of the protesters into account. If they are overheated and emotional we don’t go in.
“It’s like a risk assessment; you have to look at the crowd you are dealing with. If we went in to arrest one person with a banner the crowd would turn on us and people would get hurt.”
He said it was entirely possible that “key players” in the protests, some of whom were already known to police, could be pursued by prosecutors.
The Metropolitan Police said: “Arrests if necessary will be made at the most appropriate time. The Met has several different means of collecting the necessary evidence should it be required post-event. All complaints made to police will be passed to the Public Order Crime Unit for investigation.”
The style of policing employed for the protests appears to reflect a shift in strategy by the Met. Today the Sunday Telegraph reveals how Sir Ian Blair, the commissioner, has begun introducing “softly, softly” policing methods championed by police in Chicago.
Twelve Danish cartoonists whose pictures sparked such outcry have gone into hiding under round-the-clock protection, fearing for their lives.
The cartoonists, many of whom had reservations about the pictures, have been shocked by how the affair has escalated into a global “clash of civilisations”. They have since tried, unsuccessfully, to stop them being reprinted.
A spokesman for the cartoonists said: “They are in hiding around Denmark. Some of them are really, really scared. They don’t want to see the pictures reprinted all over the world. We couldn’t stop it. We tried, but we couldn’t.”
Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard, president of the Danish Union of Journalists, told The Times: “They are keeping a very low profile. They are very concerned about their safety. They feel a big responsibility on their shoulders. It’s blown up so big. It is tough for them.”
The cartoonists’ names were originally printed in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. Flemming Rose, the paper’s cultural editor, invited 25 newspaper cartoonists to draw a picture of Muhammad “how they saw him”, after a children’s author complained that cartoonists would only dare illustrate a book he was writing on the life of Muhammad if they could be anonymous. Twelve cartoonists responded, had their pictures printed in September, and were paid 800 Danish krone (£73) each.
In an interview with a Swedish newspaper this week, some of the cartoonists expressed their doubts about the entire episode. “It felt a little like a lose-lose situation. If I said no, I was a coward who contributes to self-censorship. If I said yes, I became an irresponsible hate monger against Islam,” one of the cartoonists said.
Another said: “I was actually angry when I first received the letter [from Jyllands-Posten]. I thought it was a really bad idea. At first I didn’t want to participate, but then I talked it over with some friends from the Middle East, and they thought I should do it.”
The cartoonists come from a variety of different political backgrounds, which is reflected in their work. While some of the pictures satirise Muhammad, others attack populist right-wing politicians and even Jyllands-Posten itself, which is rightwing.
Having failed to stop the cartoons being reprinted across Europe, the cartoonists have now decided to use all the money raised from the sales of the pictures to set up a foundation which will award an annual international prize for press freedom.