France steps up embassy security following Muhammed cartoons (+video)
A Parisian weekly has published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, prompting French to take extra security measures at some of its embassies.
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One of the cartoonists, who goes by the name of Tignous, defended the drawings in an interview Wednesday with the AP at the weekly's offices, on the northeast edge of Paris amid a cluster of housing projects.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Anger across the Muslim world
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"It's just a drawing," he said. "It's not a provocation."
The prime minister said freedom of expression is guaranteed in France, but cautioned that it "should be exercised with responsibility and respect."
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius defended freedom of expression, but warned that Charlie Hebdo could be throwing "oil on the fire" and said it's up to courts to decide whether the magazine went too far.
"Freedom of expression can be limited by court decisions. If there is a case of overstepping, it's up to individuals or groups to bring it to the courts, which will say whether the law ... was respected," he said after a Cabinet meeting.
Abdallah Zekri, President of the Paris-Based Anti-Islamophobia Observatory, said his group is considering filing a lawsuit but no decision has been made. "People want to create trouble in France," he told AP. "Charlie Hebdo wants to make money on the backs of Muslims."
Fabius said that because of the Charlie Hebdo caricatures, embassy security was being stepped up in some countries, and that he had "sent instructions to all countries where this could pose problems."
On the streets of Paris, public reaction was mixed.
"I'm not shocked at all. If this shocks people, well too bad for them," said Sylvain Marseguerra, a 21-year-old student at the Sorbonne. "We are free to say what we want. We are a country in which freedom prevails and ... if this doesn't enchant some people, well too bad for them."
Khairreddene Chabbara disagreed. "We are for freedom of expression, but when it comes to religion it shouldn't hurt the feelings of believers."
Charlie Hebdo has courted potentially dangerous controversy in the past. Last November the magazine's front-page, was subtitled "Sharia Hebdo," a reference to Islamic law, and showed caricatures of radical Muslims. The newspaper's offices were destroyed in a firebomb attack just hours before the edition hit newsstands.
In 2006, Charlie Hebdo printed reprints of caricatures carried by a Danish newspaper in 2005 that stoked anger across the Islamic world. Many European papers reprinted the drawings in the name of media freedom.
Charlie Hebdo has also faced legal challenges. The weekly was acquitted in 2008 by a Paris appeals court of "publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion" following a complaint by Muslim associations.
The debate about the limits of free expression spread to neighboring Germany, where Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Wednesday, "I call on all those, especially those who rightly invoke the right of freedom of speech, to also act responsibly. The one who now puts more oil on the fire on purpose, with obvious effect, is not the greatest thinker."
Nicolas Garriga and Jeff Schaeffer in Paris and Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed to this report.