Charlie Hebdo to reprint Prophet Mohammed cartoons as terror trial begins

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Charlie Hebdo #JeSuisCharlie

It’s been over five years since the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish supermarket Hypercacher in Paris. The long-awaited trial might bring relatives and friends some sense of normality.

17 people died during the attacks in January 2015. First, Cherif and Said Kouachi fired their Kalashnikov rifles at Charlie Hebdo’s newsroom, then spent several days on the run. Their accomplice took 19 hostages at the Jewish supermarket Hypercacher. The police eventually killed all three assailants. Now, 14 people who allegedly provided logistical support such as cars and weapons to the attackers are in the dock.

The accused could face between 10 years and life in prison. The hearings, which contrary to the norm in France will be recorded, are expected to run until November the tenth.

The magazine was targeted because it had used satirical images of the Prophet Muhammad. This attack on the freedom of the press triggered a worldwide backlash. Millions of people took to the streets of Paris a few days later in a show of unity and the slogan “Je suis Charlie” #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) went global.

Its was an attack on liberty and Freedom of speech

A worldwide wave of support for the magazine, condemning the attacks and to uphold freedom of the press.

ASSOCIATED PRESSFront from the left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU Council President Donald Tusk and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, process arm-in-arm in Paris, France, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. Thousands of people began filling France’s iconic Republique plaza, and world leaders converged on Paris in a rally of defiance and sorrow on Sunday to honor the 17 victims of three days of bloodshed that left France on alert for more violence. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

On 11 January, around 2 million people, including more than 40 world leaders met in Paris for a Je Suis Charlie march.

And yet, since the January 2015 attacks, the pressure on press freedom has increased in France particularly with the rise of populist politics and an increasing distrust of the traditional media. A recent survey by polling institute Kantar on behalf of daily newspaper La Croix found that 41% of the French are no longer interested in the information provided by traditional media. That’s a record since the yearly poll was first carried out 33 years ago.

The magazine’s attacks on religion, especially Islam, were not to everyone’s taste, and its portrayals of the Prophet Mohammed took much criticism for the message they sent to France’s Muslims, including those living in impoverished suburban areas.

Still, the attacks cut to the heart of some of France’s core values and prompted two million people to march among 40 world leaders at a unity march in Paris on 11 January 2015, with some 3.7 million others demonstrating elsewhere in the country.

“All of French society was calling to defend freedom of expression,” says Pauline Adès-Mével, spokesperson of Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF). “Demonstrators were not necessarily readers of Charlie Hebdo, and many did not even like Charlie Hebdo.”

Religious intolerance

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the attack, RSF joined with two UN special rapporteurs to warn that the spirit of solidarity and support for press freedom was fading.

They sounded an international call for states to protect journalists from religious intolerance and to decriminalise blasphemy, an offence punished by death in some countries.

“We remind heads of state and government – including those who marched against terrorism and for free speech through the streets of Paris on 11 January 2015 – of the importance of not only protecting journalists and cartoonists but also protecting their right to criticise systems of thought,” they said.

“There are worrying signs that we may not be as committed to the defence of free speech as we claimed in the aftermath of the attacks,” said special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed.

“We will never lie down. We will never give up,” Charlie Hebdo director Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau wrote in the latest edition of the magazine.

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo said Tuesday it would republish controversial cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed to mark the beginning of a highly-anticipated trial stemming from the massacre committed at its Paris offices in 2015.

Millions of people joined solidarity rallies following the attacks in January 2015 GETTY IMAGES

On Wednesday, a Paris court opened the trial of 13 men and a woman accused of providing the assailants with material and logistical support in the run-up to the attack. The edition with the Prophet Mohammed cartoons is also due to go on sale on today.

Waiting for the right moment

The cartoons were originally published in 2005 by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. They were reprinted a year later by the French satirical publication, triggering widespread anger in the Muslim world.

“We have often been asked since January 2015 to print other caricatures of Mohammed,” said a Charlie Hebdo editorial published in this week’s edition.

“We have always refused to do so, not because it is prohibited — the law allows us to do so — but because there was a need for a good reason to do it, a reason which has meaning and which brings something to the debate.”

Brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi claimed the attack in the name of al-Qaeda, describing it as vengeance for the publication of the controversial caricatures. Twelve people were killed in the initial attack, including some of France’s most celebrated cartoonists. As the brothers left the offices, they cried out: “We have avenged the Prophet.”

This week’s front cover displayed several of the cartoons with the headline: “All of that, just for this.”

In the wake of the 2015 attacks, Charlie Hebdo published an image of the Prophet Mohammed holding a placard that said “Je suis Charlie” — French for “I am Charlie” — beneath the headline: “Everything is forgiven.”

“Rare are those who, five years later, dare oppose the demands that are still so pressing from religions in general, and some in particular,” wrote Sourisseau in the latest publication.

Blasphemy

The decision to republish the cartoons will be seen by some as a defiant gesture in defence of free expression. But others may see it as a renewed provocation by a publication that has long courted controversy with its satirical attacks on religion.

The caricatures re-published this week were first printed in 2006 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, setting off sometimes violent protests by some Muslims who found the depictions offensive.

The Prophet Muhammad is deeply revered by Muslims and any kind of visual depiction is forbidden. The caricatures were perceived as linking him with terrorism. 

Charlie Hebdo, infamous for its irreverence and accused by critics of racism, regularly caricatures religious leaders from various faiths and republished them soon afterwards.

The paper’s Paris offices were firebombed in 2011 and its editorial leadership placed under police protection, which remains in place to this day.

‘Ignore the cartoons ‘

Laurent Sourisseau, the newspaper’s director and one of the few staff to have survived the attack, named each of the victims in a foreword to this week’s edition.

“Rare are those who, five years later, dare oppose the demands that are still so pressing from religions in general, and some in particular,” wrote Sourisseau, also known as Riss.

The president of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), Mohammed Moussaoui, urged people to “ignore” the cartoons, while condemning violence.

“Both the freedom to draw caricatures and the freedom not to like them are guaranteed in France. Nothing justifies violence,” the council tweeted. 

On Monday, anti-terror prosecutor Jean-François Ricard dismissed the suggestion that it was just “little helpers” who were facing justice.”It is about individuals who are involved in the logistics, the preparation of the events, who provided means of financing, operational material, weapons [and] a residence,” he told France Info radio. “All this is essential to the terrorist action.”Among those present in court is Lassana Bathily, a Malian-born Muslim employee of the Jewish supermarket who hid customers from the attack and was later granted French citizenship.The trial is expected to last until November.

#JeSuisCharlie

ls/dj (AP, AFP)

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