Charlie Hebdo editor acquitted over Mohammed cartoons

Cover from Charlie Hebdo Cartoon Special Phillipe Val, the editor of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has been aquitted (via) again on charges of insulting Muslims by publishing cartoons of Mohammed in 2006.

The court issued its decision in response to an appeal by the Union of Islamic Organisations of France and the World Islamic League against his acquittal by a Paris criminal court on 22 March 2007. The prosecutor’s office, which had requested his acquittal by the criminal court, asked the appeal court to uphold his acquittal.

Mo-Toon II: Still rumbling on

The attempt to organise a boycott (via) of Danish products in Saudi Arabia is still rumbling on and Hatim Misfir, a government official in the country, has trotted out the old canard about freedom of press and expression being okay as long as no-one uses it.

Last week, French cartoonist Plantu appeared to endorse this position, expressing concern over renewed tensions between the West and the Islamic world after the republication of the cartoons. Making the rather bizarre assertion that you can somehow kill people with cartoons, Plantu claimed to be advocating the right to nuance.

Nuance, of course, is the one thing that those making the threats seem to lack as is evidenced by the news (via) that several men who share the same name as the cartoonist whose life was threatened have also been threatened. There are 81 people in Denmark called Kurt Westergaard, several are now under police protection from stupid people taking offence.

Charlie Hebdo editor back in court

Cover from Charlie Hebdo Cartoon Special Phillipe Val, the editor of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo who was aquitted last year of offending Muslims is back in court (via), facing the same charges.

The magazine was sued last year by the Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF). The judge ruled that two of the cartoons were absolutely not offensive to Muslims and that in the case of the third, the context of its publication made clear there was no intention to offend.

The Paris Grand Mosque accepted the ruling, but the UOIF decided to appeal. The Saudi-based World Muslim League (WML) also tried to get in on the act but the appeal court ruled that they were not admissible as a civil plaintiff, leaving the UOIF as the sole plaintiff.

A verdict is expected next month.

Koji Wakamatsu banned in France

On theatrical release in France since October 3, 2007, Koji Wakamatsus classic film The Embryo Hunts in Secret has been rated X by The French Classification Commission for Cinematographic Works and The French Culture and Communication Ministry.

This creates a precedent for heritage films and forbids it from being distributed either in traditional videostores or on television even though certain TV stations have already expressed interest in programming this work of art.

The films distributor, Zootrope Films are pressing an appeal for this restriction to be annulled by the French Council of State and are looking for support. Hence this on-line petition which they are asking people to sign.

(via Midnight Eye)

French censor seeks to expand remit

The French Commission for Film Classification has made a bid to extend its powers to include the rating of films shown at festivals. The Commission has asked the culture ministry to end the certificate exemption that festivals currently enjoy, allowing them to ignore the age restrictions placed on films on general release.

The commission does not have the authority to make cuts to films, but can recommend to the ministry of culture that the obligatory permit for theatrical release not be issued.

In its annual report, the body reported that of 1,087 films viewed in the past year, 1,031 were deemed suitable for all audiences. Thirty-nine films were forbidden to under 12s, and 16 to under 16s. Only one film, Saw 3, was forbidden for under 18s.

Charlie Hebdo acquitted

Cover from Charlie Hebdo Cartoon Special Im a bit late with this one but a Paris Court has acquitted (via) satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo of charges brought by the Paris Grand Mosque and the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) after the magazine printed the Muhammed cartoons as part of a a cartoon row special.

Applause broke out in the courtroom at the announcement of the verdict, which ruled that three cartoons published by the weekly Charlie Hebdo in February 2006 were not insulting to Muslims.

The case was seen as an important test for freedom of expression on France and many - including a group of 50 intellectuals and the candidates in next month’s French presidential election - lined up to support the magazine.

Philippe Val, the editor of Charlie Hebdo welcomed the ruling and said it would open a much-needed debate among Muslims in France.“If you believe as we do that Islam is perfectly compatible with French democracy, such a debate is a blessing,” he said.

A delay for Charlie

According to French comics news site, Actua BD (via), the date for the official verdict in the Charlie Hebdo court case has been moved back a week from 15th to 22nd March.

Citizen journalism banned in France

Exactly 16 years after Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King were filmed by bystander, George Holliday, the French Constitutional Council has approved a law that criminalises the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. The law could lead to up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 (£51,000) for eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of websites publishing the images.

The law, proposed by Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy, is intended to clamp down on a wide range of public order offences - and is aimed at the practice of ‘happy slapping’ - but is drafted so broadly as to criminalise the activities of citizen journalists unrelated to the perpetrators of violent acts. This, according to Pascal Cohet, a spokesman for French online civil liberties group Odebi, is not accidental but a deliberate decision by the authorities. He is concerned that this law, and others still being debated, will lead to the creation of a parallel judicial system controlling the publication of information on the internet.

The government has also proposed a certification system for websites, blog hosts, mobile-phone operators and internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules. Press freedom campaigners, Reporters Without Borders, has warned that such a system could lead to excessive self censorship as organisations worried about losing their certification suppress certain stories.

Backfiring gestures

The previously mentioned attempt by the French National Assembly to criminalise denial of the Armenian genocide has failed to become law. The socialist drafted proposal would have made denying the genocide punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine of €45,000.

In order to become law, the bill would have to have been approved by the countrys senate. This is dominated by the centre-right government of Dominique de Villepin and President Jacques Chirac - both of whom are opposed to the bill - and was always likely to reject it. The bill was little more than an anti-Turkish gesture and, not surprisingly, it wasnt put on the upper houses agenda and - with the parliamentary session almost over and French elections on the way - the bill has been allowed to fade away.

On the face of it, then, this bill looks like a bit of low-cost gesture politics on the part of the French socialists. But the cost is higher than immediately apparent, as Turkish writer Elif Shafak - previously tried in her country for commenting on the sensitive subject - explains.

The bill, which came at the same time as an EU deadline for Ankara to fulfil its obligation over Cyprus or face a freeze of its membership talks, was seen in Turkey as yet another negative political message from the EU. This led to a nationalist reaction in the country which, ultimately, harmed people like Shafak who are trying to push for an open debate about sensitive issues such as the Armenian genocide.

I think that 1915 is such a sensitive and delicate political theme that it shouldnt be subject to political power games. It should not be up to politicians to decide which version of history should be acknowledged by everyone, she told EUobserver.

I criticise my own government for curbing freedom of expression. But it is a universal principle. If I defend it in Turkey, I will defend it in France or everywhere with the same zeal and dedication. And the French bill was very much against this principle.

She goes on to argue that Turkish society is becoming more open and is moving closer to the EU and that the trials of writers and publishers reflects a panic response on the part of a minority that would prefer to maintain the status quo.

The censorious antics of the French National Assembly does nothing to encourage dialogue or find answers and, instead, plays into the hands of the minority who would prefer to keep things as they are.

Mo toon news

Cover from Charlie Hebdo Cartoon Special Not one, but two Muhammed cartoon stories (yes, it is still trundling along), both lifted from Media Watch Watch.

First the good news. The state prosecutor has called for the dismissal of the court case brought by two French Muslim groups against satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, saying that the cartoons denounce terrorists use of the Muslim faith but do not damage Islam. A verdict was expected March 15.

Not so good is the news that the 19-year-old editor of a Cambridge student magazine has been moved to secure accommodation and is facing disciplinary proceedings after republishing one of the cartoons. The student magazine, Clareification, printed a cropped copy of the cartoon of Muhammed next to a photo of the president of the Union of Clare Students, with a caption suggesting that one was a violent paedophile and the other was a prophet of God, great leader and an example to us all.

The paper had been renamed Crucification for a special edition on religious satire.