(photo credit: AP)
A Paris court heard opening arguments Wednesday in a defamation trial against a French satirical weekly that reprinted caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that last year stoked outrage and violence across the Islamic world.
Charlie-Hebdo magazine and the publication's director, Philippe Val, are charged with "publicly slandering a group of people because of their religion." The charge carries a possible six-month prison sentence and a fine of up to $28,530.
The Paris Mosque and the Union of Islamic Organizations of France brought the charges.
The caricatures, one of which showed Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban, were published first in a Danish paper in September 2005, and sparked angry protests across the Islamic world and in Europe. Many European papers later reprinted them in the name of media freedom.
France's Charlie-Hebdo ran the drawings last February. The magazine featured a cover page showing Muhammad with his head in his hands, crying and saying: "It's hard to be loved by idiots."
Val called the case a "medieval trial," saying religions should be subject to "critique and to democratic debate."
Terrorism, not Muslims, were the intended target of the drawings, he told reporters during a news conference on the eve of the trial.
"Before being Muslim, one is a citizen of the (French) Republic," he said.
France has a Muslim population of around 5 million - the largest in western Europe.