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Tintin lawyers denounce ‘book burning’ trial over Congo comic

Lawyers for the publishers of the controversial “Tintin in the Congo” on Monday compared a legal attempt to ban the comic book, for racism, to book burning.

“I cannot accept racism but I consider it equally lamentable that we burn books. To ban books is to burn them,” Alain Berenboom, lawyer for Moulinsart, which owns the rights to the works of the late Tintin author Herge, told a court in Brussels.

“Since the freedom of the press law of 1831 there are very few books banned in Belgium.

“In Egypt an association wants to ban the ‘Arabian Nights’. That’s not where we are in Belgium,” added the lawyer, a former head of the Belgian human rights league.

The intrepid boy reporter Tintin, or at least his publishers, have been charged with racism over the portrayal of Africans in the cartoon book “Tintin in the Congo.”

The civil case, which opened last month, is being brought by a Brussels-based Congolese man who has for years tried to get the offending cartoon strip, created in the 1930s, taken off the shelves.

In his sights is the Herge foundation Moulinsart, whom the plaintiff, Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, has been pursuing in the criminal court for three years.

Frustrated at the lack of progress, he began the parallel civil case and announced earlier this month that he is including in that action the comic book publishers Casterman.

He has been joined by a fellow countryman living in Kinshasa and is supported by the French black associations group CRAN, which wants the book to remain on sale but with a warning preface.

The 1931 tale of Tintin’s trip to what was then the Belgian Congo is controversial because of its depiction of colonialism and racism, as well as casual violence towards animals.

The Belgian author Herge, real name Georges Remi 1907-1983, justified the book by saying it was merely a reflection of the naive views of the time. Some of the scenes were revised for later editions.

Berenboom denied the Congo book is racist. “It has never caused public order problems, including in Africa,” he said.

“This book contains images and dialogue of a manifestly racist and offensive nature not only to blacks but to the whole of humanity,” said Mondondo’s lawyer Ahmed L’Hedim.

“It is simply unbearable to my client that his children could come across this book and feel insulted,” he added.

The court of first instance will announce on June 21 whether it, or a trade tribunal, should consider the case.