Sarkozy sparks Muslim anger in cartoons trial

7th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 7, 2007 (AFP) - A French satirical weekly won support from powerful interior minister and presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy when it went on trial Wednesday for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

PARIS, Feb 7, 2007 (AFP) - A French satirical weekly won support from powerful interior minister and presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy when it went on trial Wednesday for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

 The message from Sarkozy, who is also minister for religious affairs, at the opening of the case seen as a test for freedom of expression brought a swift reaction from the official French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM).

Furious at what it saw as government interference, the CFCM summoned an emergency meeting later Wednesday, amid reports that its board might resign in protest.

The case against Charlie Hebdo was brought by two components of the CFCM, the Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of Islamic Organisations of France.

"What is there left to do if you can't laugh at terrorists? If we can't laugh at them, we are done for," Charlie Hebdo editor Philippe Val told the Paris criminal court.

Sarkozy, the front-runner in the presidential elections in April, seemed to agree, saying in his letter that Charlie Hebdo had followed "an old French tradition, that of satire."

A source close to the Paris Mosque rector said the CFCM board may resign in protest.

The plaintiffs are suing Charlie Hebdo for reprinting in February last year cartoons that appeared in the Danish Jyllands-Posten, infuriating Muslims worldwide.

Val told the court that the decision to publish the Danish cartoons and a separate drawing by French cartoonist Cabu was intended to "criticise religion as an ideology".

The cartoons were not "aimed against believers of any given religion".

One showed Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb, and a second showing the prophet standing on a cloud, turning away suicide bombers from paradise with the caption "Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins."

A separate drawing by French cartoonist Cabu showed Mohammed sobbing, holding his head in his hands and saying: "It is hard to be loved by fools."

The two plaintiffs argue that the cartoons draw an offensive link between Islam and terrorism.

But Val rejected that claim, saying the cartoon of Mohammed in a bomb-shaped turban "addresses the ideas defended by certain men who legitimise violence in the name of Islam."

The weekly is answering a complaint of "publicly offending a group of persons on the basis of their religion" during the hearings that are expected to last two days.

The decision to print the cartoons "was part of a considered plan of provocation aimed against the Islamic community in its most intimate faith, born out of a simplistic Islamophobia as well as purely commercial interests," according to the plea before the court.

The plaintiffs are demanding 30,000 euros (38,750 dollars) in damages and want Charlie Hebdo to publish the ruling on the front page of the weekly, if it comes down in their favor.

A conviction under this offence can also carry a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a fine of up to 22,500 euros.

The closely-watched case is seen as a test of the limits of freedom of expression in France.

A group of 50 intellectuals including many French Muslims published an open letter Monday urging support for Charlie Hebdo.

"Democrats the world over and especially Muslims hope to see in Europe, and above all in France, a secular haven where their words are not blocked by dictators or fundamentalists," they said.

Media rights watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) also launched a campaign under the slogan "With Charlie Hebdo, let's refuse to shut up."

Some 15 witnesses have been asked to make sworn statements on behalf of Charlie Hebdo, including exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, who became the target of death threats from Muslim fundamentalists in her home country for her writing.

The editors of Jyllands-Posten were acquitted in October of any wrongdoing in a separate case in a Danish court and very few editors among the dozens of newspapers worldwide that re-printed the cartoons have faced legal action.

A Russian editor of a small newspaper was fined 100,000 roubles (3,000 euros) in April last year and convicted of inciting religious hatred for publishing one of the cartoons.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Mohammed cartoons, Nicolas Sarkozy

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