A French satirical magazine has published controversial caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed on Wednesday as worldwide protests continue against a US film. France announced it would close embassies and schools in around 20 countries, fearing violence.
French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published the caricatures on Wednesday, saying the illustrations would "shock those who will want to be shocked." Nude illustrations of Mohammed were included among the various caricatures in the release. Meanwhile, Russian news agency Interfax reported that Parisian kiosks sold out all copies of the magazine almost as soon as it hit the shelves. Charlie Hebdo’s website went down soon after the issue was published.
A group of Pakistani hackers claimed to have taken down the official Charlie Hebdo website on Wednesday, saying they demanded freedom from hypocrisy from the French government.
The group vowed to do “whatever is necessary to stop blasphemous content of our holy prophet” if the French government does not take action against “so-called blatant freedom of speech.”
Security was beefed up and riot police deployed at the Magazine’s offices in anticipation of retaliatory protests. Paris also announced that it would be closing its embassies and schools in around 20 countries, fearing subsequent violence, according to AFP.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced special security measures “in all the countries where this could pose a problem.”
French schools in Tunisia for example will close from Wednesday until Monday morning due to security concerns following the cartoon furor, an embassy source told AFP. The Embassy said it had not received any direct threats and the move is a “preventative measure.”
French politicians and religious leaders have called for calm at the decision to publish the images amidst violent worldwide Muslim protests against the American-made film “Innocence of Muslims” that have been raging since last week. Approximately 40 people have been killed in the wake of the violence across the globe. Any representation of Mohammed is considered insulting and blasphemous under Islamic law.
- Charlie Hebdo (CH) is a satirical French magazine notorious for its criticism and controversy.
- In 2006, CH reprinted a 2005 Danish cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, which ignited protests.
- Former editor Philippe Val was tried and acquitted of racial injury charges in French courts after reprinting the 2005 cartoon.
- In 2011, CH released an issue with the Prophet Mohammed as a “guest editor.” The issue was called “Sharia Hebdo”; its Paris offices were firebombed shortly afterwards.
The French government condemned the publication as needlessly provocative, while at the same time urging for cooler heads to prevail.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office said in a statement, "In the current climate, the prime minister wishes to stress his disapproval of all excess and calls on everyone to behave responsibly."
"Freedom of expression constitutes one of the fundamental principles of our republic. Such freedom is exercised within the framework of the law and under the supervision of the courts,” the PM said.
Mahmoud Ghozlan, the spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, welcomed criticism leveled at the cartoon by France’s government, but said French law should treat insults against Islam as it deals with Holocaust denial.
"If anyone doubts the Holocaust happened, they are imprisoned, yet if anyone insults the Prophet, his companions or Islam, the most [France] does is to apologize in two words. It is not fair or logical," Reuters quotes him as saying.
The head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, Essam Erian, similarly condemned the French cartoons on Wednesday. Erian said the French judiciary should be as vigorous in dealing with the offensive cartoons as it was as it was when a domestic magazine published topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge.
"If the case of Kate [the duchess] is a matter of privacy, then the cartoons are an insult to a whole people. The beliefs of others must be respected," he said.
Erian asked Muslims not to react violently, but said peaceful protest was justified.
Dalil Boubakuer, rector of Paris’s Grand Mosque issued “a call for calm” to members of the Muslim faith, while expressing his sadness over the magazine’s act.
“I learn with much astonishment, sadness and concern that a publication could exacerbate the outcry in the Muslim world," he said. "I call on all not to pour oil on the fire."
“But I regret that incitement to religious hatred is not punishable by law is as incitement to racial hatred. We appealed to the District Court of Paris after the cartoons Charlie Hebdo published in 2006, but our complaint was not upheld.”
Prime Minister Ayrault had issued a statement earlier Wednesday saying that all protests against the Innocence of Muslims in the center of Paris would be forbidden.
“We received an official request to hold a demonstration, and it was denied,” Ayrault said in a press release. “There is no reason to allow conflicts to occur in our country that have no relationship to France.”
The PM may have been referring to calls for new protests in the center of Paris on Saturday at Trocadero Square spread by social networking groups. Another Saturday protest was set to be held outside The Great Mosque of Paris.
However, Muslim unrest over the film has not been stifled in France.
Last week, 152 protestors were arrested at a protest not sanctioned by France’s Ministry of Internal Affairs outside the US Embassy in Paris.
France’s Muslim Council said in a statement that it "vigorously condemns this new act of Islamophobia.''
"We launch an urgent appeal to the Muslims of France to not react to this provocation,” they said, according to AFP.