PARIS A French court on Thursday ruled in favor
of a satirical weekly that had printed cartoons of the Prophet
Mohammad, rejecting accusations by Islamic groups who said the
publication incited hatred against Muslims.
Following a recommendation by the public prosecutor, the
court said the cartoons published by the weekly Charlie Hebdo
fell under the category of freedom of expression and did not
constitute an attack on Islam in general.
"The acceptable limits of freedom of expression have not
been overstepped, with the contentious pictures participating
in a public debate of general interest," the court said.
The cartoons, originally published in 2005 by a Danish
daily, provoked violent protests in Asia, Africa and the Middle
East that left 50 people dead. Several European publications
reprinted them as an affirmation of free speech.
With France's presidential election just a month away, the
court case has been overshadowed by election politics and added
to a debate about freedom of speech and whether religions can
DEFENSE OF WEEKLY
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative
presidential frontrunner, his centrist rival Francois Bayrou,
and Socialist party leader Francois Hollande have all spoken
out in defense of the weekly.
Charlie Hebdo publisher Philippe Val has said he published
the caricatures in February 2006 after the editor-in-chief of
the Paris tabloid France Soir was fired for reprinting them.
"I am happy, not just for Charlie, but for everyone," Val
said after the ruling. "It's good news for those who believe in
freedom of expression and for Muslims who are secular and
support the ideals of the republic."
The Paris Grand Mosque, World Islamic League and Union of
French Islamic Organizations (UOIF) sued the magazine over its
publication of two of the Danish caricatures and one of its
UOIF said it would appeal against Thursday's decision.
The Muslim groups said the cartoon showing a bomb in the
Prophet's turban branded all Muslims as terrorists, as did
Charlie Hebdo's cartoon showing the Prophet reacting to
Islamist militants by saying: "It's hard to be loved by
But the court said that while the cartoon picturing the
bomb in the Prophet's turban could offend Muslims if seen on
its own, the picture had to be judged in the context of the
magazine issue, which had treated religious fundamentalism.
Even if the cartoon in itself was "shocking or hurting for
Muslims, there is no deliberate desire to offend them," it
Courts in France, which observes a strict separation of
church and state in the public sphere, have repeatedly defended
free speech rights against religious objections.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders welcomed the
court decision, saying: "This judgment is a victory of press
freedom and is in no case the defeat of one community."