The publisher of a French magazine faces imprisonment and a hefty fine in a case seen by some as a test of freedom of expression. Philippe Val of the weekly Charlie Hebdo today began defending charges of “insulting a group of people on the basis of religion” for publishing cartoons that offended many Muslims. “In a democracy, we’re all shocked by what people say and do. We just have to learn to talk about it,” Val said outside the court.
Abdallah Zerki is the head of one of the Muslim organisations taking the case to court. He said he wants to ask the questions: “Have we been insulted or not? Has our religion been attacked or not?”
The row centres around three cartoons, two of which had already been published in a Danish magazine in September 2005. Many Muslims were outraged at images that depicted the Prophet Mohamed. The cartoons led to demonstrations, many violent across the Muslim world. The magazine claims the drawings attack terrorism and not Islam. It has received support from many politicians in France, although President Jacques Chirac criticised it for “blatant provocation”.