ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — The publisher of one of Turkey’s most prominent cartoon magazines on Friday shut down the weekly and fired all its staff after it published a cartoon of Moses deemed to be offensive.

Girgir had published in its latest edition a cartoon showing the bearded Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, with his companions complaining and using vulgar curse words.

“The decision has been taken for the magazine to be closed and all the staff laid off because of the distasteful cartoon,” the publishers said in a statement on the magazine’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.

“The cartoon has disturbed society and disturbed us as a publishing company,” it said.

Rembrandt's Moses with the Ten Commandments,1659, Germaldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin (photo credit: Google Art Poject / Wikipedia Commons)

Rembrandt’s Moses with the Ten Commandments,1659, Germaldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin (Google Art Poject/Wikipedia Commons)

Girgir has since 2015 been published by the group of the Sozcu newspaper, a secular nationalist daily staunchly opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The publishers blamed the cartoon on a deliberate attempt to “put the company in a difficult situation,” and said it would inform prosecutors of which employees were behind it.

A statement by the magazine, before the closure was announced, apologized for the cartoon, saying “it was not noticed before printing because of tiredness and insomnia.”

Known in Jewish tradition as Moshe Rabbenu (Moses our rabbi), Moses in the Old Testement leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt towards the Promised Land. But he is also sacred to Christians as well as Muslims, featuring prominently in the Islamic holy book the Quran.

Cartoons of holy figures, especially from Islam, are a near taboo in Turkey.

Two Turkish journalists from the Cumhuriyet daily were last year ordered to serve two years in jail for illustrating their columns with a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad originally published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted after the publication of the Girgir cartoon that “this has nothing to do with freedom of speech or humor. This is immoral and a hate crime.”

The cartoon was also angrily condemned by the editor in chief of Istanbul’s Jewish weekly Shalom Ivo Molinas who tweeted: “What a disgrace! What disrespect!”

Turkey still has several satirical weekly cartoon magazines, including Leman and Penguen, which are seen as bastions of satire amid growing criticism of press freedom under Erdogan’s rule.