French President Emmanuel Macron has defended the decision by Charlie Hebdo magazine to re-publish offensive caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, saying “we’ve freedom of expression, and freedom of belief”.
But Macron, speaking on a visit to Lebanon on Tuesday, said it was incumbent on French citizens to show civility and respect for each other, and avoid a “dialogue of hate.”
“It’s never the place of a president of the Republic to pass judgment on the editorial choice of a journalist or newsroom, never. Because we have freedom of the press,” Macron said.
The infamous French magazine is republishing the offensive caricatures, which unleashed a wave of anger in the Muslim world, to mark the start of the trial of alleged accomplices in the militant attack against it in 2015.
Among the cartoons, most of which were first published by a Danish newspaper in 2005 and then by Charlie Hebdo a year later, is one of Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse protruding.
“We will never lie down. We will never give up,” editor Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau wrote in a piece to accompany the front cover that will be published in print on Wednesday.
Twelve people, including some of the magazine’s cartoonists, were killed when Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo and sprayed the building with automatic gunfire.
The Kouachi brothers and a third gunman who killed five people in the 48 hours that followed the Charlie Hebdo massacre were shot dead by police in different stand-offs, but 14 of their alleged accomplices go on trial on Wednesday.
The decision to republish the offensive cartoons will be seen by some as a defiant gesture in defence of free expression.
But others may see it as a renewed provocation by a magazine that has long courted controversy with its satirical attacks on religion.
After the 2006 publication of the cartoons, people online warned the weekly would pay for its mockery. For Muslims, any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.
In 2007, a French court rejected accusations by Islamic groups that the publication incited hatred against Muslims.
The president of the French Council of Muslim Worship, Mohammed Moussaoui, urged people to “ignore” the cartoons, while condemning violence.
“The freedom to caricature is guaranteed for all, the freedom to love or not to love (the caricatures) as well. Nothing can justify violence,” he said.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry condemned the republication of the cartoons as “deeply offensive”.
“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,” said a ministry statement.
“Such actions undermine the global aspirations for peaceful co-existence as well as social and inter-faith harmony.”