French Presidential candidate Francois Bayrou will appear in court today in defence of a newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. A union of Islamic groups is suing Charlie Hebdo for defamation. The case is seen as a litmus test of the boundaries of free speech and religious tolerance in the country. The paper’s editor has told the court the sketches parodied terrorists in general and not Islam specifically. But Muslims regard all images of the Prophet as blasphemous.
Prosecution lawyer Francis Szpiner said:
“All French Islam is doing is demanding application of the law of the Republic. How can it be scandalous for a person feeling offended to go to a judge and say “I think the law has been violated”.
The images were reprinted after their initial publication in Denmark sparked worldwide outrage. Editor Flemming Rose came to court to support his French counterparts:
“If they lose, it will mean it will be forbidden to ridicule or criticise or challenge ideologies. This is a religious ideology. It might as well have been a political ideology. Or any other kind of ideology. So there is a lot at stake for Europe, I think.”
Some are angry at what they see as the “politicisation” of the case. UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has also voiced his support.