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HFHR statement concerning Charlie Hebdo attack

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights would like to express its deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the victims of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices. This act of terror resulted in the death of several employees of the magazine, including the editor-in-chief, Stephane Charbonnier, and cartoonists known as “Cabu”, “Tignous” and “Wolinski”. We want to strongly condemn this unprecedented act of violence against journalists and against the freedom of speech in Europe.

Charlie Hebdo magazine has become famous in Europe for satirical cartoons lampooning Islamic fundamentalism. Through satire, which by nature involves exaggeration and distortion of the reality, journalists of the weekly made brave and sometimes provocative comments on the current social problems and political events. For this reason Charlie Hebdo’s editorial team fell victims to inexplicable violence.

European Constitutions and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights afford the same degree of protection to shocking, provocative and disturbing statements as they do to those which are welcomed by the public. The freedom of expression is the foundation of a free society. It includes the right to publish satirical contents, jokes, mocking comic strips, even if they may offend or outrage others. A constant reminder of this is judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, for instance the one issued in the case Różycki and Kuliś v. Poland (application no. 27209/03).

However, it becomes more prevalent in Europe to close exhibitions, cancel TV shows or stop the publication of press articles under pressure to protect public morality and religious feelings. Yet in democratic states that respect fundamental rights these values cannot be protected at the cost of disproportionate interference with the freedom of speech. The events in Paris are a bloody and bitter act aimed at intimidating journalists and censoring materials that hurt the sensitivity of other people. Resorting to violence to suppress discomforting contents is unacceptable. We hope that the French law enforcement authorities will swiftly and thoroughly investigate this act of fundamentalism.

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