French papers rally round sacked cartoons editor

3rd February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 2, 2006 (AFP) - Several French newspapers rallied Thursday in support of France Soir after it became the first publication outside Denmark and Norway to print all 12 controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

PARIS, Feb 2, 2006 (AFP) - Several French newspapers rallied Thursday in support of France Soir after it became the first publication outside Denmark and Norway to print all 12 controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The authoritative daily Le Monde published its own front-page depiction of Mohammed — a drawing by cartoonist Plantu showing a bearded prophet made up of the words "I must not draw Mohammed" written repeatedly in long-hand.

"A Muslim may well be shocked by a picture of Mohammed, especially an ill-intentioned one. But a democracy cannot start policing people's opinions, except by trampling the rights of man underfoot," it said in an editorial.

The left-wing newspaper Libération said it would publish two of the 12 cartoons in its Friday edition, along with six pages of comment on the affair which burst forth this week after smouldering for several months.

The satirical weekly Charlie-Hebdo said next week's paper would feature all 12 pictures, which include one of Mohammed with a bomb-shaped turban and another of him at the gate of heaven telling Muslim suicide-bombers to stop because "We ran out of virgins".

"We are going to do it as a matter of principle and to express solidarity with France Soir and our Danish colleagues," said editor Philippe Val.

"This is an inviolable question of principle here in the land of Voltaire and Zola. We are willing to appear before the courts if some think the drawings go too far, but we are certainly not willing to give way to the desires of religious extremists," he said.

The French government has kept its distance from the row, with ministers  defending the principle of free expression but saying it should be exercised "with tolerance."

Meanwhile the editor of France Soir, Jacques Lefranc, challenged his sacking overnight by the paper's owner.

"This decision seems to me questionable in both reasoning and method," he said in a statement. "I reserve the option to contest it."

Lefranc was removed from his job as French-Egyptian owner Raymond Lakah apologised to Muslims for offence caused by the cartoons which appeared in Wednesday's edition.

The dismissal was meant as a "powerful sign of respect for the intimate beliefs and convictions of every individual," said Lakah, a Roman Catholic who has joint French-Egyptian citizenship.

Once the country's biggest daily, France-Soir today sells fewer than 45,000 copies a day and has been in receivership since October. Seventy percent of the stock is owned by Lakah's company Montaigne Press.

Journalists on France-Soir said that Lefranc had been made a scapegoat in order to "make a symbolic gesture to the Muslim countries." Insiders said the editor had actually been opposed to publishing the cartoons, but was talked into it by colleagues.

Le Monde's cartoonist Plantu told his newspaper that cartoonists and other humorists find it increasingly hard to touch on religion in their work.

"People do not understand to what point — outside the Catholic Church which we can attack and which is, one has to say, very lenient — it has become impossible to criticise religious things," he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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