Pakistani religious students rally to condemn the planned - and canceled - anti-Islam cartoon contest, in Lahore, Pakistan, Aug. 31, 2018.
Pakistani religious students rally to condemn the planned - and canceled - anti-Islam cartoon contest, in Lahore, Pakistan, Aug. 31, 2018.

A Dutch lawmaker, who was planning to hold a caricature contest of Islam's prophet, has backed away from his plans amid fears of violence.   

Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch Party of Freedom, the second-largest political party in the Netherlands, announced his decision Thursday in a written statement. 

"To avoid the risk of victims of Islamic violence, I have decided not to let the cartoon contest go ahead," Wilders said. 

Wilders also noted in a tweet that the contest was being canceled due to safety and security concerns.

Wilders is known for his anti-Islam views, declaring Islam a totalitarian ideology.

Earlier in June, Wilders announced plans for a cartoon contest to depict Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The news stirred anger and grief among Muslims throughout the world as the physical depiction of Prophet Muhammad is considered offensive and insulting to the followers of Islam.

Roiling protests 

The cartoon contest also sparked protests in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where blasphemy is an extremely charged issue, often leading to mob violence incidents, including the killing of those accused of blasphemy.  

Earlier this week, thousands of supporters of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious-turned-political party, started a march from Lahore to Islamabad, demanding the newly elected government of Pakistan cut diplomatic ties with the Netherlands and expel its ambassador.

"We are ready to die in Islamabad for this cause [to stop the cartoon contest] and have already written our wills," Ejaz Ashrafi, TLP's spokesperson had told VOA on Wednesday. "Nothing will stop us now."

TLP members are staunch supporters of the controversial blasphemy law and openly justify violence to safeguard what they call the honor of the prophet. They also demand the death penalty for those who are found guilty of committing blasphemy. 

The party rose to prominence last year and was able to win more than 2 million votes during Pakistan's general elections last month.

The same party also organized a huge protest in Islamabad in front of the Dutch Embassy last week. Pakistani security forces intervened and barred angry protesters from pelting the Dutch Embassy with stones.

Earlier this month, a Pakistani cricketer had announced a bounty of $24,000 for Wilder's murder.

Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician and head of
Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician and head of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Imran Khan,r ight, speaks with his party spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry before presenting their party manifesto for the forthcoming general election in Islamabad on July 9, 2018.

Pakistan's reaction

Pakistan's information minister Fawad Chaudhry welcomed Wilder's decision to cancel the contest and framed it as a diplomatic achievement for Pakistan. 

Earlier Thursday, Pakistan's newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a video message stating that Muslim countries need to raise their concerns against the cartoon contest in the upcoming United Nations General Assembly. 

"They [the West] have their own way of looking at their religions while we [Muslims] look at it in a very different way," Khan said.

Mohammad Faisal, a spokesperson for Pakistan's foreign office, tweeted Wednesday about the issue and said the government had raised it with senior diplomats from the Netherlands. 

"FM [foreign minister] spoke with the Dutch FM on phone to discuss the issue of blasphemous caricature. FM expressed concerns on the announcement of abominable and sacrilegious competition by Greet Wilders. The Dutch FM said that his government was neither associated nor supporting the event," Faisal tweeted.

Meanwhile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reportedly said that while he didn't support the planned contest, he would defend Wilders' right to hold it.

Some of the information in this report came from Reuters.