Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that insulting Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) does not count as an expression of artistic freedom but is a "violation of religious freedom", according to state news agency TASS.
Putin made these remarks during his annual press conference in Moscow on Thursday, adding that insults to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were a violation of "the sacred feelings of people who profess Islam".
TASS reported that the Russian president also criticised the publication of blasphemous sketches of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Such acts, the report quoted Putin as saying, gave rise to extremist reprisals.
Artistic freedom had its limits and it shouldn't infringe on other's freedoms, he added.
The president further stated that Russia had evolved as a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state and so Russians were used to respecting each other’s traditions, according to the report.
In some other countries, this respect came in short supply, he said.
PM welcomes Putin's remarks
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan welcomed Putin's statement, saying it "reaffirms my message that insulting Holy Prophet (PBUH) is not 'freedom of expression'."
"We Muslims, especially Muslim leaders, must spread this message to leaders of the non-Muslim world to counter Islamophobia," the premier said.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also appreciated the Russian president's statement.
"Insulting our Holy Prophet (PBUH) is indeed a violation of religious freedom and is a far cry from freedom of expression," he said.
Charlie Hebdo had published the blasphemous sketches in 2015, prompting condemnation from Muslims across the world.
The publication had also led to an attack on the magazine's office on January 7, 2015, in which 12 persons had been killed.
The issue had resurfaced in 2020 when the magazine republished the sketches on September 2 to coincide with the trial of 14 people accused of helping the attackers carry out their gun rampage against the magazine staffers.
A month later, a history teacher in France was beheaded after he had shown the caricatures in his class. In a ceremony dedicated to the teacher, French President Emmanuel Macron had vowed not to "give up [the] cartoons" and also made contentious remarks against "Islamists", who he said "want our future".
The caricatures were then also projected onto the facade of a building in one city and at protests around the country.
The move and the French president's remarks had drawn criticism from the Muslim World.
PM Imran had denounced them and said: "This is a time when President Macron could have put [a] healing touch and denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarisation and marginalisation that inevitably leads to radicalisation."
Meanwhile, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan demanded that the government expel the French envoy and close the embassy, leading to protests with police and clashes across the country.