The state prosecutor overseeing case against Charlie Hebdo ordered that the editor Philippe Val be released without charge, and recommended that the case be dismissed. The official judgement will be made on March 15.
The weekly satirical paper had procession of presidential candidates and celebrities speaking in its defence. One witness, a Muslim refugee from Algiers, displayed a Saudi Arabian flag to illustrate that the “turbombe” cartoon was not the first to associate Islam with weaponry – the flag carries the Koranic declaration of faith underscored with a sabre.
The prosecutor, Anne de Fontette, strongly defended the magazine’s right to free speech. She said that the cartoons did not attack Islam, but rather the fundamentalists who acted in Islam’s name. “Not all Muslims are fundamentalists”, she said.
She even praised Charlie Hebdo:
For a number of our citizens it is a lively reflection of the principle of press freedom in a democratic society which can never be a theocracy.
The plaintiffs, the Grande Mosque de Paris and the Union of French Islamic Organisations, complained that the trial had become “political”. In reality, they must be sorely disappointed that they wasted so much time and money on a prosecution which stands virtually no chance of succeeding.
It seems that the entire French establishment, politicians, press, and judiciary, is standing up for Charlie Hebdo on this one. We are looking forward to a decisive and unambiguous rejection of this silly case on March 15.
UPDATE: The Guardian reveals, without comment, that the lawyer for the Muslim organisations is called Christophe Bigot.
Reuters reports that a second attempt to prosecute a French satirical newspaper will go ahead on Wednesday and Thursday of next week. Charlie Hebdo published all twelve of the Danish Motoons, plus some of its own, in February 2006.
The Grand Mosque de Paris and the Union of French Islamic Organisations, will try to get the newspaper prosecuted for race hate. Francis Szpiner is their lawyer, and he’ll have to do some serious szpinning if he’s going to make this case stick:
Free speech is not the issue here. The issue is that, in France, racism is not an opinion, it is a crime. [...] Two of those caricatures make a link between Muslims and Muslim terrorists. That has a name and it’s called racism.
Doesn’t bode well for him, does it? Firstly, he makes the link himself between Muslims and Muslim terrorists, then he makes life even more difficult for himself by assuming Islam is a race. Tough one to prove, that.
Interestingly, by focussing on the “racism” charge, Szpiner is forced to concede an important point:
We admit that one can caricaturise the Prophet.
This case is likely to be ruled “irrecevable”, just like the first case, which attempted to prosecute on exactly the same grounds. Makes you wonder why they are throwing their money away.
The publisher ofCharlie Hebdo Philippe Val told L’Express:
It is racist to imagine that they can’t understand a joke.
Which, it must be said, doesn’t really help the defence much.
UPDATE: (6/02/07) Over 50 French intellectuals, including several Muslims, yesterday published a letter in Libération supporting Charlie Hebdo.
Democrats the world over and especially Muslims hope to see in Europe, and above all in France, a secular haven where their words are not blocked by dictators or fundamentalists. If Charlie Hebdo were to be convicted… we would all lose this shared space of resistance and liberty.
ActuaBD reports that a case brought against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and France Soir has been ruled “irrecevable” (inadmissable) by the Tribunal correctionnel de Paris.
The case was brought by the Federation of African Islamic Associations, Comoro and Antilles islands (FFAIACA) against the newspapers for publishing some of the original Motoons, plus some of their own. They were charged with incitement to racial hatred.
The judge’s ruling was presumably based on the fact that Islam is not a race.
Charlie Hebdo is not out of the woods yet, however, as there is still a lawsuit pending brought by four other Muslim Associations, including the Grande Mosque de Paris. This recent case sets an encouraging precedent.
France is the only European country in which Motoons publishers have been subjected to court cases.
(Hat tip The Comics Reporter)
Dalil Boubakeur, president of the French Council of Muslims, states that the verdict largely justified the action against the publication of the cartoons, which he somewhat hysterically describes as a “deliberate act of racist violence”, and concludes:
The judgement pronounced by the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris serves as an official warning against such acts of aggression in the future
Contrary to previous reports, he does not rule out the possibility of an appeal with with the Union of Islamic Organisations. Though why an appeal would be necessary, considering the verdict was such a great victory, he does not say.
Nearly a year and a half since the Jyllands-Posten published its infamous 12 Motoons, and over a year since worldwide tantrums were thrown as a result, a Danish paper felt confident enough that the climate had changed, and printed an article about the gently-blasphemous webcomic Jesus and Mo.
According to the cartoonist’s blog, the main thrust of the article in Information was the Charlie Hebdo trial, and the Jesus and Mo cartoons were printed as a direct challenge to Carsten Juste, editor of the rival daily Jyllands-Posten. This from the Information blog:
Thus, Jyllands-Postens editor-in-chief was wrong when he predicted that nobody would draw the prophet Muhammed after the Muhammed-crisis, to which he pathetically added “therefore I am deeply ashamed to say: They have won!”.
These cartoons might be of another nature, the context might be different, or perhaps the entire over-excited conflict has settled down to a more peaceful level, so that few people will take offense from these cartoons in the papers.
The journalist who wrote the story, Niels Ivar Larsen, there has been absolutely no uproar.
Here is one of the cartoons that appeared in Information last week:
(Hat tip Harry’s Place)
Terry Sanderson, the president of the National Secular Society, has issued a press statement in support of the editor of Clareification, and written separately to the college and Students Union. The press release is reproduced in its entirety here, as we at MWW agree with every word:
Staff and students at Clare College should make a stand for free speech instead of backing those who would destroy it, says the National Secular Society (NSS).
Reacting to news that a student who published a satirical issue of the student magazine that poked fun at religion is to be disciplined, Terry Sanderson, President of the NSS said: “We are shocked that the staff and even the students union at this supposedly liberal college have joined the attack on this student because he had the temerity to poke fun at religion. Free expression is such a precious commodity and is under such ferocious attack at present from religious interests that it is disgraceful that no-one is standing up for this young man’s right to be rude about religion – even about Islam.”
Mr Sanderson has written to the master of Clare College, Professor Tony Bader and to the Senior Tutor, Patricia Fara as well as the president of the Students Union, Calum Davey, as follows:
“We write after seeing reports in the local Cambridge press indicating that a contributor to your student magazine Clareification faces disciplinary action for having printed items that some people thought were “offensive” or “inflammatory”.
“If these reports are true, we wish to register our profound disquiet that a supposedly liberal college has reacted in this way. The reaction risks undermining one of the most precious and important rights that we have in this country: freedom of expression.
“Satire aimed at religion is no different to satire aimed at any other ideas and should not be punished or restrained. The freedom to poke fun at those who take themselves too seriously is a time-honoured tradition in this country. Regrettably, it is rapidly being eroded by cases like this. We urge you to think again and stand four-square behind the satirists, instead of disciplining them.
We would like to remind all concerned that satirising religion – even if that religion is Islam – is not racism, as this episode has been dubbed. Religion and race have very different characteristics. We would have heartily joined the condemnation if the satire had been racially motivated, but according to the reports we have read, the issue of Clareification in question was devoted to religious satire.
“We would like to draw your attention to a case that is pending in France at the moment, in which a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, has been brought to court by an Islamic organisation for re-publishing the Danish cartoons that are at the centre of so much controversy. In the French case, academics, artists and politicians of all hues have rushed to the defence of the magazine. Letters of support and statements defending free speech have been issued by some of the most influential people in the country – including Mr Sarkozy, who is potentially the next President of France.
“Your own reaction – as reported – does not bear comparison with the principled French reactions. It sides with the oppressors and censors who are doing so much to retard open debate in academe and elsewhere.
“We call on you to support the publishers of the magazine and to tell the would-be censors that their protests have been heard but that they will not prevail. Without the freedom to debate, discuss and, yes, mock, ideas and ideologies, there can be no informed political discourse. Satire is an indispensable tool in the operating of a truly free society.”
If you want to complain to the Cambridge Evening News for calling the cartoon “racist”, their contact details are here.
The French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has spoken up in support of Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech.
Sarkozy, the frequent butt of Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures, said in a letter read out by the newspaper’s lawyer that he preferred “too many caricatures to an absence of caricature”.
Predictably, a representative of the French Council of the Muslim Faith branded Sarkozy’s contribution to the debate “unacceptable”.
It’s out of the question for a minister for religious affairs to take such a position. There’s no neutrality.
Since when was “neutrality” a requirement of government office?
Charlie Hebdo’s publications director Philippe Val opened the defence by saying the Mohammed caricatures were aimed at ideas not men, and
If we no longer have the right to laugh at terrorists, what arms are citizens left with? How is making fun of those who commit terrorist acts throwing oil on the fire?
UPDATE: (8/02/07) The French daily newspaper Libération republished the cartoons yesterday, to illustrate what this court case is about. And, in reaction to Sarkozy’s remarks, some members of the French Council of the Muslim Faith have threatened to resign.
The newspaper published all 12 of the original Jyllands-Posten Mo-toons on February 8, in an issue devoted to Islam. Its front page boasted a huge image of a weeping Mohammed, titled “Mahomet débordé par les intégristes” (Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists). He is saying “C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons” (It’s hard to be loved by morons).
Now leaders of the Paris Mosque are taking action, claiming that the publication was
deliberate act of aggression aimed at offending people of the Muslim religion in their attachment to their faith.
Yes, it’s called satire – and it predates Islam by over a thousand years. May you be laughed out of court, Mosque of Paris.