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CHARLIE HEBDO ANNIVERSARY

CHARLIE HEBDO

Charlie Hebdo one year on: ‘We can’t give up’

Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly propelled to global notoriety when its cartoonists were shot dead by jihadist gunmen a year ago on Thursday, has been abandoned in its struggle to "laugh at everything", one of the survivors of the attack said.

Charlie Hebdo one year on: 'We can't give up'
Photo: AFP

In the wake of the killing of eight of its staff on January 7th, 2015, Charlie Hebdo became one of the best-known publications in the world and the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie flashed across social networks.

The newspaper was held up as a symbol of freedom of expression and an astonishing 7.5 million copies were sold of the first issue produced by its surviving staff just a week after the attack.

But now those same staff feel they have been left to carry that torch alone, according to the newspaper's financial director, Eric Portheault, who escaped death by hiding behind his desk when the gunmen stormed in.

“We feel terribly alone. We hoped that others would do satire too,” he said. “No one wants to join us in this fight because it's dangerous. You can die doing it.”

A month before the attack, Charlie Hebdo was close to shutting down as sales had dipped below 30,000. Its brand of provocative, no-holds-barred humour appeared to have gone out of fashion.

Most people were unaware that its staff had been under police protection since it had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2006. In 2011, its offices were firebombed and it was forced to move premises.

Painful road

Despite the earlier threats, few people could have imagined an attack as bloody as that carried out by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi in the paper's modest offices in a quiet street in eastern Paris.

The assault – claimed by Al-Qaeda's branch in the Arabian Peninsula – took the lives of Charlie Hebdo's top cartoonists, known by the nicknames Charb, Cabu and Wolinski, as well as nine other people, and sparked horror across the world.

Donations poured in for the victims, and 200,000 people signed up for a subscription.

But the so-called “survivors' issue”, featuring the Prophet Mohammed with a tear in his eye on the cover under the title “All is forgiven”, also sparked violent protests in several Muslim countries.

Despite losing many of its key staff, Charlie Hebdo has continued to produce a 16-page issue each Wednesday of cartoons and drawings that – its creators take pains to point out – poke fun at all religions and politicians.

But it has been an emotional experience for the staff left behind, including several who narrowly escaped death, such as cartoonist Laurent Sourisseau, known as Riss, who was seriously injured in the attack.

Riss, 49, took over the management of the paper and became its main shareholder.

But some staff were unhappy with the new leadership and demanded more transparency in the management of the vast sums donated, to ensure they went to the victims and their families.

The row calmed down, but one of Charlie's best-known cartoonists, Luz, resigned in September, saying he was too traumatized by the attack to continue.

“Those we lost left an enormous, monstrous hole,” said Portheault. “Others didn't want to work with us because they thought it was too dangerous, which is understandable. We have a Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.”

'No self-censorship'

The team of around 20 staff has recently moved into new ultra-secure offices. Unlike the offices that were attacked, the address is a closely-guarded secret.

Despite the dangers, the members of the new team say they are determined to continue mercilessly poking fun at France and the rest of the world.

“There is no question of self-censorship, otherwise it would mean they (the attackers) have won,” Portheault said.

“If what is happening in the news leads us to draw the Prophet Mohammed again, we would do it,” he added.

The cover of Wednesday's one-year anniversary issue features a bearded man representing God with a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder, under the headline: “One year on: The assassin is still out there”.

One million copies have been printed.

Several of the newspaper's recent drawings have drawn criticism, especially abroad.

When Riss pictured Aylan, the Syrian toddler found dead on a Turkish beach this year, under a McDonald's sign in what was intended to be criticism of the consumer society, he was accused of racism.

An exasperated Luz even felt compelled to produce an explanation of what a satirical drawing is.

As a result of the attack, Charlie Hebdo now has a hefty financial war chest and a global readership.

“We are read by far more people now, who have discovered Charlie's special type of humour,” said Portheault. He hopes sales will eventually stabilize around the 100,000-mark.

The massive injection of funds has done nothing, however, to heal the staff's psychological wounds – and the jihadist attacks in which 130 people were killed in Paris in November made the process of recovery even harder.

“With the November 13th attacks and then the one-year anniversary, everything has come back up to the surface,” Portheault said.

“But we won't give up. We don't want them to have died for nothing.”

TERRORISM

Charlie Hebdo terror attacks: French court jails accomplices

A Paris court on Wednesday handed jail terms ranging from four years to life to more than a dozen people convicted of helping Islamist gunmen who attacked satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and customers at a Jewish supermarket in January 2015.

Charlie Hebdo terror attacks: French court jails accomplices
Court sketches of the 14 accused. Photo: AFP

Survivors and family members of the dead sat in silence as the verdicts were read out, which they hailed afterwards as a victory for justice and freedom of speech after a sometimes traumatic trial that revived the horror of the killings.

The editor of Charlie Hebdo Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, who lives under round-the-clock police protection, was also in court to hear the sentencing by a five-member team of magistrates who had listened to evidence against the accused over three months. 

“It's been painful, searing. It's been a stage in our mourning process, necessary and unavoidable,” said a lawyer for Charlie Hebdo, Richard Malka. “I hope it's the start of something else, of an awareness, a wake up call.” 

In the absence of the attackers themselves — all three were killed by security forces in the days after their rampage — French investigators instead focused on accomplices to the men, including their weapon suppliers.

The main accused, Ali Riza Polat, was judged to have known about his friend Amedy Coulibaly's plans to take part in the attacks, and was given a 30-year sentence for complicity, which he immediately said he would appeal.

Another 10 accused were present in court, all men ranging from 29 to 68 years old with prior criminal records but no terror convictions. They were all found guilty on a range of charges.

In all, 13 sentences were handed down, including to two accused who were tried in absentia: Hayat Boumeddiene, the partner of gunman Coulibaly, received a 30-year sentence, while Mohamed Belhoucine, a known Islamic extremist, was handed a life term.

Both of them are presumed to be in Syria and may be dead.

A fourteenth suspect was not sentenced because he was convicted in a separate terror trial earlier this year and is thought to dead. 

'Freedom has last word' 

During the attacks in January 2015, seventeen people were killed over three days, beginning with the massacre of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo magazine by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi.

They said they were acting on behalf of Al-Qaeda to avenge Charlie Hebdo's decision to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, while Coulibaly had sworn loyalty to the Islamic State group.

Coulibaly was responsible for the murder of a French policewoman and a hostage-taking at a Hyper Cacher market in which four Jewish men were killed.

Those shot dead in the Charlie Hebdo office included some of France's most celebrated cartoonists such as Jean Cabut, known as Cabu, 76, Georges Wolinski, 80, and Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, 47.

To mark the start of the trial on September 2, the fiercely anti-religion magazine defiantly republished the prophet cartoons, leading to a fresh violence and protests against France in many Muslim countries.

Three weeks later, a Pakistani man wounded two people outside the magazine's former offices, hacking at them with a cleaver.

On October 16, a young Chechen refugee beheaded teacher Samuel Paty who had showed some of the caricatures to his pupils.

And on October 29, three people were killed when a young Tunisian recently arrived in Europe went on a stabbing spree in a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.

President Emmanuel Macron's government has introduced legislation to tackle radical Islamist activity in France, a bill that has stirred anger in some Muslim countries.

On the cover of its new issue published before the verdicts, Charlie Hebdo in typically provocative style published a picture of God being led away in a police van with the title “God put in his place”.

“The cycle of violence, which had began in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, will finally be closed,” editor Riss, who was badly injured in the attacks, wrote in an editorial.

“At least from the perspective of criminal law, because from a human one, the consequences will never be erased,,” he added.

'Thanks to justice' 

The Charlie Hebdo killings triggered a global outpouring of solidarity with France under the “I am Charlie” slogan and signalled the start of a wave of Islamist attacks around Europe.

Later that year, in November 2015, Paris was again besieged when Islamist gunmen went on the rampage at the Bataclan concert hall, the national stadium and at a host of bars and restaurants.

A trial of the only surviving gunman and suspected accomplices is expected to start in September next year. 

Christophe Deloire, the head of press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said he welcomed the verdict in court on Wednesday.

“It is proof that violent extremists don't have the last word. Thanks to justice, it is freedom that has the last word,” he wrote on Twitter.

Patrick Klugman, lawyer for the victims at Hyper Cacher, said: “For most of the victims… I believe that they have feeling of having been heard.”

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