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Charlie Hebdo’s decision to republish Prophet Muhammad cartoons spark widespread protests

The cartoons prompted the 2015 terror attack on Charlie Hebdo's office in Paris. However, the magazine said not republishing them would have been 'journalistic cowardice'.

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New Delhi: French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo‘s decision to republish the cartoons featuring Prophet Muhammad, that had prompted the 2015 terror attack in its Paris office, have led to widespread protests across the world.

People from several countries like France, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Chechnya and Yemen have taken to the streets to agitate against the cartoons that depict Prophet Muhammad. Any form of visual depiction of the Prophet is forbidden in Islam and is considered blasphemous.

In Pakistan, especially, thousands of people rallied in anti-France protests that were led by the hardline Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party, which has organised many protests against alleged blasphemy in the past.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry also condemned the move and tweeted, “#Pakistan condemns in the strongest terms the decision by the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, to re-publish deeply offensive caricature of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)”.

It added that such a deliberate act to “offend the sentiments of billions of Muslims cannot be justified as an exercise in press freedom or freedom of expression”.

The magazine republished the cartoons on 1 September, just a day before 14 people were scheduled to go on trial for allegedly aiding the attackers.

In its editorial, the magazine stated that the cartoons belonged to history and “cannot be rewritten nor erased”.

“It was unacceptable for us to approach this trial without showing the pieces of evidence to readers and citizens. Not republishing the caricatures would have amounted to ‘political or journalistic cowardice’,” it noted.

Also read: Guardian’s cartoon of Priti Patel shows the West’s duplicity on racism

January 2015 attack

On 7 January 2015, two brothers named Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, French nationals of Algerian origin, stormed into the Paris office of the magazine shouting slogans of Allahu Akbar and gunned down 12 people.

The two were carrying rifles, grenades and pistols. Many celebrated cartoonists, including then editor Stéphane Charbonnier, cartoonist Cabu, Honoré, Tignous and Wolinski, economist Bernard Maris, editors Elsa Cayat and Mustapha Ourrad were killed. They injured at least 11 people. Terror group Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack later.

The Kouachi brothers were killed in a shootout with the Paris Police two days later. A third attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, who belonged to the Islamic State (IS), was also killed by the police.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was the first in a series of attacks that year, which led to at least 130 people being killed in France.

The trial 

Fourteen people, including one woman, are on trial for allegedly aiding the Kouachi brothers. The trial began on 2 September.

Hayat Boumeddiene, the widow of IS attacker Coulibaly and two other men are being tried as accomplices in the attacks.

The other 11 individuals, most of whom are facing 20 years in prison, are accused of helping with the logistics involved in the attack, including buying weapons and tactical gear for the attackers.

However, the accused claim that they were unaware that the brothers planned to carry out a mass killing. The suspects will be tried on charges, including complicity in murder and terrorist conspiracy over the next few months.

Also read: Pakistani newspaper slammed for cartoon mocking Imran Khan, apologises

‘Charlie Hebdo’ no stranger to controversy

The weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo was founded in 1970 and is famous for its daring cartoons and controversial takes on politicians and religion. Most of its employees came from Hara-Kiri, another satirical magazine, which was banned after it mocked the death of former French president Charles de Gaulle.

This is also not the first time that the magazine has published cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad.

In 2006, the magazine reprinted controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad which first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. The republication was criticised by French President Jacques Chirac who said that it was an “overt provocation”.

In November 2011, its office in Paris was burned down on the day the magazine was due to release an issue with a cover that depicted a bearded and turbaned figure of Prophet Muhammad.

Also read: What New York Times did isn’t absurd. Era of political cartoons is over thanks to memes


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