Freedom of expression laid in stone in France, within limits

14th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

Freedom of expression, which has been thrown into the spotlight by last week's deadly attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris, is a benchmark of a democratic society and laid down in French law.

The law also fixes its limits, outlawing libel, insult, incitement to hatred or violence and apologising for terrorism.

- The limits -

Established by the Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, freedom of expression is mainly governed by the July 29, 1881, law on freedom of the press.

This law outlaws libel and insult, including on grounds of race, religion, and sexual orientation.

The law also sanctions incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence on grounds of origin, membership or not of an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a religion.

- Apologising for terrorism -

The condoning of terrorism has been at the heart of several prosecutions in the wake of last week's attacks in Paris.

It is the charge brought against notorious French comedian Dieudonne who was arrested Wednesday after writing a Facebook comment suggesting he sympathised with one of the Paris attacks gunmen.

Under a new law of November 2014, this offence is covered by the Penal Code which contains new provisions strengthening the fight against terrorism.

Jurisprudence defines apologising for terrorism as throwing a favourable judgment on terrorism.

In the new text, condoning acts of terrorism is punishable by a maximum term of five years imprisonment and a 75,000-euro ($88,000) fine, rising to seven years and 100,000 euros when the Internet has been used to propagate the message to the public.

While French law protects individuals, it does not protect religious symbols or divine figures and therefore the concept of apologising for terrorism goes a lot further than the simple publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, for which Charlie Hebdo has been acquitted.

In its new issue that sold out across France in record time, Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday again featured the Prophet Mohammed on its cover.

- Blasphemy not a crime -

In France blasphemy is not a crime.

According to French lawyer Christophe Bigot, Charlie Hebdo has been prosecuted more by Catholic associations than Muslim ones "and every time the result is the same, whatever the religion".

Convicted several times for anti-Semitic comments, the comedian Dieudonne has been punished when "he attacks people, when he attacks Jews as a community," Bigot says.

© 2015 AFP

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