Denmark’s Foreign Minister Lene Espersen says that claims in Egypt that she should have apologised for the media printing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, are a misunderstanding.
The English-language Egyptian Gazette has reported under the headline ‘Denmark apologises to Musims for cartoons’ that Espersen apologised for the cartoons during a visit to Cairo recently.
The Gazette reports the apology as falling during a visit with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayyeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar.
"The minister renewed her country's apology for the publication of these cartoons and pointed out Denmark’s efforts to issue a law criminalising contempt of religions," el-Tayyeb is reported as saying during a joint news conference with Espersen yesterday. El-Tayyeb is further reported as saying that he could not apologise for any reactions by Muslims following the publication of the cartoons.
Speaking from Brussels where she is taking part in a NATO meeting, Espersen denies having apologised.
“I fully refute having apologised... I am always very careful in explaining exactly what Denmark’s position is on this issue. So I can fully deny having apologised,” Espersen tells Politiken.
Espersen suggests that the misunderstanding may have occurred as a result of her explanation of Danish law.
“I can confirm that I have told several of my conversation partners that freedom of speech is not without limits in Denmark. There are two limits: the blasphemy paragraph, which is paragraph 140 in criminal law and the racism paragraph as in paragraph 266b,” Espersen says.
“It may be here that he (Ed: Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayyeb) has not quite understood. I have simply explained that we have some legal rules in Denmark: You can say what you want, but you are legally held to account for what you say,” the minister adds.
The Danish embassy in Cairo has issued a news release in which it has clarified what Espersen said.
Linguistically, the part of the statement concerned could be misinterpreted as an apology for the cartoons, as it is not fully clear what the regret refers to, and in translation into Arabic, or in oral conversation, could easily be misconstrued as an apology for them.