UPDATE: Sarkozy angers Muslims over cartoons trial

8th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 7, 2007 (AFP) - A French satirical weekly won support from 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 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 response from the French Muslim Council (CFCM).

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

"The executive board of the CFCM deplores the politicisation of a legal case leading it to denounce (the interference) ... as an act of provocation linking terrorism and Islam," said CFCM president Dalil Boubakeur.

"The CFCM executive regrets this manipulation," he said.

"It calls for restraint to keep the issue in its proper context, which is that of two cartoons offending Muslims."

A source close to the Council said the question of the board resigning would also be discussed during the emergency meeting.

The case against Charlie Hebdo was brought by two Muslim groups that are part 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."

"I prefer an excess of cartoons than the absence of cartoons," Sarkozy wrote in the letter read by the weekly's lawyer Georges Kiejman.

Describing himself as a "favorite target" of the weekly, Sarkozy said he accepted that "in the name of freedom, you can laugh at everything."

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."

Charlie Hebdo is answering a complaint of "publicly offending a group of persons on the basis of their religion".

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 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.

The hearings into the lawsuit resume on Thursday, but a decision is not expected until later.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Mohammed cartoons, Presidential elections, Sarkozy

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