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French Muslim groups sue magazine over Prophet Mohammed cartoons

Two Muslim organisations launched legal proceedings on Friday against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, accusing it of inciting racial hatred after it published provocative cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.


Two Muslim groups are suing the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after it published inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

In a law suit that will revive the debate between freedom of speech and dangerous provocation, the weekly magazine’s director along with two cartoonists are accused of inciting racial hatred and defamation.

The allegations concern cartoons that caricatured the Prophet, including two drawings which show him naked, published at a time, on September 19, when violent anti-Western protests were flaring across the Muslim world in response to an US anti-Islam amateur film.

“Cartoons stigmatised Islam”

Two organisations - the Algerian Democratic Union for Peace and Progress (RDAP) and the Organisation of Arab Union - are claiming a total of €780,000 in costs and damages, according to AFP.

The organisations say the court action is to “defend and support Islamic and/or Arabic people”.

According to the complainants’, the drawings were “damaging to the honour and reputation of the Prophet Mohammed and the Muslim community”.

“They stigmatised Muslims and provoked hatred,” their lawyer Anthony Bem told AFP, adding that "caricatures does not mean anything goes”.

Bem accused Charlie Hebdo of using the backdrop of Muslim protests against the West to boost its sales.

Thousands of extra copies of the weekly had to be ordered after the publications usual print-run of 75,000 sold out within hours of going on sale.

But Richard Malka, lawyer for Charlie Hebdo, hit back, slamming the “exorbitant” charges.

The “accusations” do not take into account the fact the cartoons were made by a satirical magazine, Malka said.

“Once again they are trying to create fear to inhibit the French tradition of satirising religions,” Malka added.

Free speech versus provocation

Charlie Hebdo’s decision to publish the cartoons at the height of anti-West protests across the Muslim world forced the French government to take drastic action to protect the safety of its citizens worldwide.

French embassies and cultural centres were conseqently closed in around 20 Muslim countries.

The publication provoked a heated debate in France with several ministers criticising the magazine’s decision to publish the provocative cartoons, but at the same time making it clear they supported the paper’s right to freedom of speech.

At the time, Charlie Hebdo's editor, Stephane Charbonnier, described those getting irate over the cartoons as "ridiculous clowns" and accused the government of pandering to them by criticising him for being provocative.

September’s publication of the cartoons was not the first time Charlie Hebdo had provoked Muslim ire. In 2011 its offices were firebombed after it published an edition "guest-edited by Mohammed", which the satirical weekly called Sharia Hebdo.

The first hearing in the case has been pencilled in for January 29 at a court in Paris.

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