Images depicting Muhammad on cover as alleged accomplices in 2015 attack due in court
The French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo is to republish controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to mark the start of a trial of suspected accomplices of terrorist gunmen who attacked its offices in January 2015.
The attack on the publication’s offices by brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi left 12 people dead, including several of France’s most famous cartoonists.
“We will never lie down. We will never give up,” Charlie Hebdo’s director, Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, wrote in an editorial to go with the republication of the cartoons in its latest edition, to be released on Wednesday.
The cover shows cartoons first published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten newspaper in 2005. These were reprinted by Charlie Hebdo in 2006, sparking anger across the Islamic world.
A central cartoon on the cover was drawn by Jean Cabut – known as Cabu – a celebrated cartoonist who was killed in the attack.
“All of that, just for this,” reads the frontpage headline.
The trial of 14 alleged accomplices over the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the killing of a female police officer the following day, and an attack at a kosher supermarket two days later, will open on Wednesday.
The defendants, three of whom are being tried in absentia and may have been killed in Syria, face various charges, including supplying weapons and providing logistical support for the attacks. Most of the 11 who will appear in court have said they knew the actions were for a crime but claimed they had no idea they were for mass killings. The trial will last until November.
The Kouachi brothers went on the rampage at the Charlie Hebdo Paris offices on 7 January 2015 killing nine journalists, a maintenance worker and two police officers, one of whom was shot at point-blank range on the street outside.
Two days later, a third Islamist gunman, Amédy Coulibaly, attacked the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in a southern district of Paris, killing four customers and taking several hostages. Coulibaly, who was in contact with the Kouachi brothers, made a video pledging allegiance to Islamic State.
All three gunmen were killed in police shootouts on 9 January – the Kouachis at a printworks in northern France where they had taken refuge, and Coulibaly at the Paris supermarket.
The massacre prompted a worldwide wave of support for the magazine under the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie.
On 11 January, around 2 million people, including more than 40 world leaders met in Paris for a Je Suis Charlie march.
Charlie Hebdo had long courted controversy with its attacks on all religious and political leaders. The newspaper’s previous offices were firebombed in 2011 after its cover featured the prophet and the title Charia (Sharia) Hebdo.
Its editorial team wrote that now was the right time to republish the cartoons, saying it was “essential” as the trial opens.
“We have often been asked since January 2015 to print other caricatures of Muhammad,” it said.
“We have always refused to do so, not because it is prohibited – the law allows us to do so – but because there was a need for a good reason to do it, a reason which has meaning and which brings something to the debate.”
Speaking during a visit to Beirut, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, said it was not for him to pass comment on the magazine’s editorial judgement, but that the freedom to blaspheme went in hand in hand with the freedom of belief.
“Satire is not a discourse of hate,” Macron said.