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French Paper Sued Over Cartoons of Muhammad


A French newspaper has been taken to court for printing cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The case, which is being closely watched, pits defenders of free speech against those concerned about religious sensitivities. For VOA, Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.

The case is the latest judicial proceeding related to cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by a Danish newspaper in 2005. The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo reprinted the drawings last year, along with one of its own.

The Paris Mosque and the more conservative Union of French Islamic Organizations are suing the newspapers for three cartoons in particular. Two of them were originally published in the Danish newspaper, and a third is by a French cartoonist. It depicts Muhammad in tears saying: "It's hard to be loved by fools," in apparent reference to Islamist extremists.

Charlie Hebdo's publication director Philippe Val argues the ability to criticize a religion is essential in a democracy.

In remarks to Radio France, Val acknowledged the cartoons might anger some fundamentalist Muslims. But he said it was not their place to make the laws in France. Nor was it part of any other fundamental group. Democracy was about debate, he said, and religion is a subject that can be debated.

But the lawyer for the Paris mosque and the Islamic union, Francis Szpiner, says Charlie Hebdo has gone too far.

Szpiner told French radio that both Muslim groups agree that religion can be mocked, even if it's hurtful. But the three cartoons under dispute go beyond mocking. They constitute an injury to Muslims.

The case has stirred widespread debate in France. A group of intellectuals, including French Muslims, have published an open letter defending the newspaper's rights to print the Muhammad cartoons. But a TNS Sofres poll to be published in France's Le Parisien newspaper Thursday finds 75 percent of French consider it unacceptable to make fun of a religion publicly.

The Muhammad drawings drew widespread anger around the world last year, after a number of newspapers published them. On Wednesday, France's leftist Liberation newspaper republished some of the images in a spirit of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. Many of the newspapers that have been taken to court for the drawings, including the Danish newspaper that authored them, have been acquitted.

The Paris hearing ends Thursday and the court will deliver its decision at a later date.