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France6 February 2007

Full support for satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on eve of trial for publishing Mohammed cartoons

Reporters Without Borders voiced “unconditional support” today for the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo , which goes on trial in Paris tomorrow in a civil lawsuit by the Grand Mosque of Paris and the Union of Islamic Organisations of France. It is accused of deliberately trying to hurt Muslims “in their collective attachment to their beliefs” by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a special issue a year ago.

Most of the cartoons were the ones which the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published in September 2005, sparking protests in many Muslim countries. The front page one was by French cartoonist Jean “Cabu” Cabut.

“We support Charlie Hebdo in its commitment to free expression and to the right to satire and we condemn the many different kinds of intimidation that have been targeted at this weekly,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The public area must remain open not only to dialogue but also to controversy.”

Charlie Hebdo’s decision to reprint the Danish cartoons was taken at an especially fraught moment. Some 10 news media had been banned or suspended in countries such as Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia for reproducing the cartoons. Journalists has been arrested in countries such as Jordan, Algeria and Yemen.

“By publishing the cartoons, Charlie Hebdo chose to resist the attempt to impose silence by means of threats,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This is what counts. The public arena must remain free.”

The organisation continued: “The trial that opens tomorrow is a test of freedom of expression in France. We express our unconditional support for Charlie Hebdo in its fight for the right to satire and we hope that the courts will protect this principle, as the Danish judges did on 26 October 2006 when they acquitted Jyllands-Posten’s editors and ruled that its Mohammed cartoons were not offensive to Muslims.”

Ever since the cartoons first appeared in Jyllands-Posten, there has been a never-ending debate as to whether it is permissible to publish opinion pieces or cartoons that could offend the religious sensibilities of part of the population. After the publication of Robert Redeker’s op-ed piece in Le Figaro last September, the French courts are now having to take a position on this issue.

“We expect an outcome that accords with the principles of free expression and the freedom to inform and be informed,” Reporters Without Borders added.

In tomorrow’s trial, the plaintiffs are requesting 30,000 euros in damages and the publication of key passages from the court’s ruling. Charlie Hebdo published its special issue on the cartoons one week after they were published by the French daily France Soir on 1 February 2006, in a decision that led to the dismissal France Soir’s editor, Jacques Lefranc.

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