A year ago this month, Malaysia’s Tamil-language newspaper, Makkal Osai,
which caters for the country’s ethnic Indian minority, was closed down by the government for a month after publishing an image of Jesus smoking.
Kuala Lumpur’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Murphy Pakiam, had earlier denounced the picture as a “desecration”. The newspaper apologized for the publication of the picture, saying it was an accident made by a graphic artist seeking to illustrate a section on quotes from great leaders. It said the artist apparently did not notice that the figure of Jesus was smoking a cigarette in the photograph he used to illustrate the quote, “If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them.”
More recently in India, several towns in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh saw irate Christian protesters attacking the offices of the Sakshi (Witness) daily newspaper, after it published a “smoking Jesus” picture on July 13.
The newspaper, which is owned by the family of Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, chief
minister of the state and a member of the Church of South India, printed an apology to Christians on its front page.
It said it had the “highest regard for Jesus Christ,” and described the publication of the picture as a “blunder”. The newspaper attributed the mistake to an enthusiastic sub-editor who had downloaded the picture from the Internet.
J. A. Oliver, the secretary of Andhra Pradesh Council of Churches, said of the publication of the image by the Sakshi newspaper, “This has been extremely embarrassing for us.” In a statement, the council of churches said, “Where matters of faith are involved, it is not only accuracy but reverence that matters.”
The Catholic Church in the southern state of Kerala has also been embarrassed by the publication of the image on the cover of the Neyyatinkara diocesan magazine, Vachana Jyotis (Flame of Word).
The church issued an apology and has decided to close the magazine down. The
diocesan bishop, Vincent Samuel, told Ecumenical News International the managing editor priest and the lay volunteer editorial team gave had agreed that a small-scale copy of the controversial picture could be printed on the front page.
When the magazine came back from the printers with an enlarged copy of the
picture, the editorial team placed stickers over the cigarette and dispatched the copies hoping it would be “harmless”, Bishop Samuel said. However, many Catholics were angry and protested when the magazine was distributed in churches, he acknowledged.