A 16 year-old teenager in France was indicted for glorifying terrorism after he published a cartoon representing a character with the Charlie Hebdo journal, hit by bullets, with an accompanying ironic comment.
The current situation is, to say the least, paradoxical. Last weekend, following the terrible attacks that took place right in the middle of Paris, large rallies were held throughout the country to denounce terrorism and to remind the world of France’s commitment to the fundamental principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
But since last week, it has become clear that a stiffening is taking place in France with the appearance of dozens of lawsuits based on the “defense or glorification of terrorism” offense, which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 euros (or 7 years in prison and 100,000 euros fine if the Internet is involved, because the latter is now an aggravating circumstance).
For example, midweek, the Associated Press identified 54 legal proceedings running on that ground, sometimes with other grievances held against those arrested. In some cases, the judgment has already been made: fifteen months imprisonment for this Ardennes inhabitant, three months imprisonment for this one living in Toulon or a year imprisonment for this Nanterre inhabitant.
The number of cases has since increased. Le Monde listed 70 in an article published a few hours after that of the AP.
A CARTOON ON FACEBOOK
Lately, a young man of 16 was arrested and placed in custody. France 3 indicates that on Thursday, the teenager was presented before a juvenile judge to decide if he should be indicted for glorifying terrorism. For its part, the Public Prosecutor’s Department for minors of the city of Nantes asked the next day for his release on bail until the Court hearing.
His fault? Having published on his Facebook profile “a cartoon representing a character with the Charlie Hebdo journal, hit by bullets, accompanied by an ironic commentary” the TV channel explained.
[Here is the cartoon, as published by Norman Finkelstein, and which was widely pubished on the Net]
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND ITS LIMITS
The multiplication of procedures for glorification of terrorism poses the question of the limits of freedom of expression, which seems to be getting cracked down on since the attacks. A situation that alarms many non-governmental organisations such as the League of Human Rights, which fears the reflex of drastic security measures, and Amnesty International.
“Freedom of expression does not have favourites. Now is not the time for knee-jerk prosecutions, but measured responses that protect lives and respect the rights of all” explains the NGO, which fears that some arrests made in the heat of emotion and firmness in fact violate freedom of expression.
Because although everyone may agree to defend freedom of expression when it’s all plain sailing into the wind, we should not forget that it also applies to messages that may be unpleasant or revolting. “If we do not believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we do not believe in it at all”  explains philosopher Noam Chomsky.
Does this mean that we must stand idly by? No, of course not. Some cases likely deserve legal punishment if there is anything to punish (especially if other grievances are included in the procedure). But the emotion aroused by the attacks raises fears of a general lack of discernment that does not contribute to the administration of justice in good conditions.
 Interview by John Pilger on BBC’s The Late Show, November 25, 1992. See also : “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.” Noam Chomsky, in Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, 1992.
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