Friday, March 23, 2007

Charlie Hebdo : Yesterday's crucial verdict

Yesterday in Paris, a court’s decision cleared Philippe Val, the editor of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, of “publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion” when it published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed a year ago. The case was brought by the Paris Grand Mosque, the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF) and the World Islamic League.

The judges were right in finding that the limits of free expression were not exceeded in this case. Their verdict accords with the French Republic’s values and is important for French society as a whole. Hopefully it will set a judicial precedent. Their ruling is in no way a defeat for one single community, rather it is a victory for press freedom, for the general principle of freedom of speech and furthermore for all those who remain determined not to appease Islamo-fascists and all religious fundamentalists in France and around the World.

The Paris Grand Mosque said it would not appeal, although not surprisingly the more radical UOIF announced that it would.

When he left the court yesterday, Philippe Val, who was facing a possible sentence of six months in prison and a fine of 22,500 euros, expressed his satisfaction and confidence in the French judicial system, commenting: “We have been vindicated by the court.”

It is also important to note that this verdict comes at a crucial time for France, just one month before the Presidential election. It was encouraging to see that many politicians, including UDF presidential candidate François Bayrou and French Socialist Party leader François Hollande, voiced their support for the magazine during the two-day trial on 7 and 8 February, and that Nicolas Sarkozy, the UMP presidential candidate, also indicated his support, commenting that he preferred “an excess of cartoons to a lack of cartoons.” At the same, it is unfortunate that, during this Presidential campaign, these same candidates have been so cautious in not mentioning the rise of communities who increasingly aim to separate themselves, and the risks that this represents to France, the French Republic and its core idealistic values.

Franck Guillory


The outcome of this key trial for the defence of press freedom follows a similar decision by Danish judges acquitting the editors of the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, the first newspaper to publish controversial cartoons of Mohammed.

The lawsuit concerned three of the six Mohammed cartoons which the weekly published on 8 February 2006. Two of the three had appeared in Jyllands-Posten in 2005. One of them showed Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb about to explode. The other showed him saying: “Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins.” The third, which was on the cover, was by French cartoonist Jean “Cabu” Cabut. It showed Mohammed with his head in his hands saying: “It is hard to be loved by idiots.”


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