France22 March 2007
Charlie Hebdo editor’s acquittal in Mohammed cartoon case hailed as positive for French society
Reporters Without Borders hailed a Paris criminal court’s decision today to clear Philippe Val, the editor of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, of “publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion” by publishing 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 court’s verdict accords with the French republic’s values and is good for French society as a whole,” the press freedom organisation said. “We hail the judges’ finding that the limits of free expression were not exceeded in this case. This ruling is a victory for press freedom and in no way is a defeat for a community. We hope it will set a judicial precedent.”
The UOIF announced that it would appeal, but the Paris Grand Mosque said it would not.
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.
In the French case, the three plaintiffs had demanded 30,000 euros in damages from Charlie Hebdo, while the French public prosecutor’s office had recommended acquittal. Val had additionally faced a possible sentence of six months in prison and a fine of 22,500 euros. As he left the court today, he expressed his satisfaction and confidence in the French judicial system, commenting: “We have been vindicated by the court.”
Val had received strong backing not only from French journalists but also many politicians, including UDF presidential candidate François Bayrou and French Socialist Party leader François Hollande, who voiced their support for the weekly during the two-day trial on 7 and 8 February. Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the UMP presidential candidate, had also indicated his support, commenting that he preferred “an excess of cartoons to a lack of cartoons.”
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.”