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Turkish police search trucks carrying Charlie Hebdo newspaper

Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper faces backlash, amid reports that it evaded censors to print depiction of Prophet Muhammad
An armed Turkish police officer stands guard outside the offices of Cumhuriyet (AFP)

Turkish police stopped trucks carrying freshly-printed newspapers bearing Charlie Hebdo cartoons, searching the vehicles for almost an hour on Tuesday night.

Leftist newspaper Cumhuriyet (The Republic) agreed to print a special edition featuring a four-page spread of cartoons and comment that appeared in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, whose Paris offices were attacked last week, seemingly due to the magazine's multiple depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. 

Cumhuriyet’s editor said the move was a message of “solidarity” with the magazine.

“We condemn this attack on freedom of expression in the strongest terms,” said Utku Cakiroz in a statement, “and we want to show our solidarity”.

Images of the Prophet are considered blasphemous by many in the Islamic tradition, but the French magazine on Tuesday decided to return to publication after 12 people were killed in last Wednesday’s attack, this time once again taking the controversial step of depicting the Prophet Muhammad on its front page. The paper has issued five million copies of the latest edition, which has already sold out in many parts of France. 

In Turkey, where Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief has warned that a strong spirit of secularism is “under attack,” police checked the print run to ensure that the local edition of Charlie Hebdo did not include a depiction of the Prophet.

The police checks came days after Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu joined world leaders in Paris on a huge march promoting tolerance and freedom of expression.

A statement from the newspaper later said editors had taken into account “religious sensitivities” when preparing the edition.

However, there were reports on Wednesday that the paper did in fact print a picture of the Prophet – although editors appear to have evaded the censors by moving the image from the front page to the top of two columns featured in the rest of the paper.

Cumhuriyet's decision to print any of the Charlie Hebdo material at all has sparked a widespread backlash, with thousands of death threats reportedly pouring in over email and via social media.

The mayor of Turkish capital Ankara, Melih Gokcek, encouraged his 2.3 million followers on Twitter to take the paper to court for blasphemy, accusing Cumhuriyet editors of provoking Muslims into raiding their offices in order to besmirch the religion.

The most tweeted hashtag in Turkey on Wednesday morning was #ÜlkemdeCharlieHebdoDağıtılamaz (Charlie Hebdo May Not Be Distributed In My Country).

However, supporters of Cumhuriyet’s decision started their own hashtag, “Je Suis Cumhuriyet,” echoing the Je Suis Charlie hashtag that emerged from last week’s Paris attacks.

Security has now been beefed up outside the newspaper’s offices, where a small student protest against the decision took place earlier on Wednesday.

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