Verdict due in French cartoons trial

21st March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 21, 2007 (AFP) - A Paris court on Thursday hands down its verdict in the closely-watched trial of a satirical French weekly sued by two Muslim groups for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

PARIS, March 21, 2007 (AFP) - A Paris court on Thursday hands down its verdict in the closely-watched trial of a satirical French weekly sued by two Muslim groups for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Two influential Muslim groups took the editor of Charlie Hebdo, Philippe Val, to court for reprinting in February last year cartoons that appeared in a Danish newspaper, sparking angry protests by Muslims worldwide.

The plaintiffs -- the Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of Islamic Organisations of France -- argue that the cartoons draw an offensive link between Islam and terrorism and are demanding 30,000 euros (38,750 dollars) in damages.

A state prosecutor called for Val to be acquitted, at the end of a two-day trial last month seen as an important test for freedom of expression in France and which saw large crowds cram into the Paris courtroom to hear the arguments put by both sides.

But Charlie Hebdo editor Val told AFP: "I want to be acquitted without the slightest ambiguity. If there is any reservation whatsoever, I will appeal."

Val is answering a complaint of "publicly offending a group of persons on the basis of their religion", a charge that also carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a fine of up to 22,500 euros.

One of the cartoons reprinted from Denmark's Jyllands-Posten 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."

Francis Szpiner, a lawyer for the Paris Mosque, said his client was "calmly awaiting" the verdict.

"The trial was useful and educational, and the Paris Mosque was right to act," he said. "Freedom of expression was never in danger, secularism was never in danger," he insisted, saying the trial had provided an opportunity for "a high-quality republican debate".

Candidates in next month's French presidential election lined up during the trial to defend their ideas about religion and freedom of expression, while a group of 50 intellectuals including many French Muslims published an open letter urging support for Charlie Hebdo.

Right-wing election frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy, who is interior minister and responsible for religious affairs, drew fire from the French Muslim Council, to which the plaintiffs belong, after he sent a message of support to Charlie Hebdo at the start of the trial.

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.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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