Trial of Paris attack accomplices begins as Macron says Charlie Hebdo had right to publish Prophet Mohammed cartoons

Macron says France’s freedom of speech gives people the right to blaspheme, as the trial of 13 men and a woman accused of assisting the Islamist gunmen who launched the deadly 2015 Paris attacks begins under enhanced security.

The courtroom has been modified especially for the proceedings, while each of the suspects was guarded by two police officers who had their faces covered with balaclavas and had bullet-proof vests on.

The defendants are a facing a range of charges from providing weapons and logistical assistance to the attackers (deceased Said and Cherif Kouachi, and Amedy Coulibaly) to financing terrorism and membership of a terrorist organization. They told the judge they would answer the court’s questions.

The trial will continue for 10 weeks and will be filmed in its entirety. It’s forbidden to film legal hearings in France, but exceptions are sometimes made for cases of exceptional importance.

In January 2015, attacks on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters, police officers, and a kosher supermarket saw 17 people killed in Paris over three days. The gunmen were killed in a standoff with the police. 

On Wednesday, Charlie Hebdo, known for its fringe and provocative humor, issued a special edition, republishing the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed which triggered a spree of Islamist violence in the French capital five years ago.

We will never lie down. We will never give up,” Laurent ‘Riss’ Sourisseau, the magazine’s editor, wrote, explaining the move.

The drawings in question first appeared in a Danish magazine in 2005 and have been a source of major controversy since then, as any depiction of the Prophet is considered blasphemous.

French President Emmanuel Macron refused to condemn the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. During his visit to Lebanese capital, Beirut, he said that France has freedom of the press and it wasn’t up to the president to judge editorial choices made by journalists.

There is in France a freedom to blaspheme which is attached to the freedom of conscience. I am here to protect all these freedoms. In France, one can criticize a president, governors, blaspheme.

“Satire is not a discourse of hate,” Macron said, adding that the 12 slain employees of Charlie Hebdo and other victims will be remembered.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex welcomed the start of the hearings with a short tweet supporting the magazine. “Always Charlie,” it read.

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