30/01/2014 05:00 GMT

Maajid Nawaz Will Not Be Dropped As Lib Dem Candidate, Says Nick Clegg

Jason Kempin via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 29: Co-Founder and Executive Director of Quilliam, Maajid Nawaz attends Youth Radicalization Redefined during the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival at SVA Theater on April 29, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Nick Clegg has said Maajid Nawaz will not be dropped as a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, amid a row over whether he was wrong to tweet a link to a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad.

Nawaz says he has received death threats since posting the image earlier this month, while a petition calling for him to be ditched as Lib Dem candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn in next year's general election has gathered more than 20,000 signatures, and a rival petition in his defence has more than 7,000.

Clegg told LBC 97.3 radio that he would not personally have tweeted the controversial cartoon - which shows a stick figure of Jesus saying "Hi" to a stick figure called Mo, who replies "How you doin'?" - and said it was important to show "respect" to people of all faiths and none when discussing religious matters.

But the Lib Dem leader said: "He is not going to be dropped as a Liberal Democrat candidate. He has the right - as any Muslim, non-Muslim or anyone of any faith or none in this country has - to say things even if that causes offence to other people.

"It so happens that what he did does cause real offence to many, many Muslims in this country. All I would say is that we have to make sure that that debate, sensitive though it is, is conducted in a respectful way in moderate terms.

"I would not have tweeted that thing, clearly. I will defend anyone's right to deploy the freedom of expression in this country. I'm not going to start censoring people in a free society."

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