No blasphemy law in France reminds Valls

Manuel Valls, carrying the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo, 14 Jan, 2015
Manuel Valls, carrying the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo, 14 Jan, 2015 AFP PHOTO PATRICK KOVARIK

Blasphemy does not exist as a legal offence in France.


In his speech on Tuesday to the French National Assembly, which received a standing ovation from all political parties, Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared “Blasphemy is not in our law, it never will be.”

Yesterday, the front page of the first edition of Charlie Hebdo since the terrorist attacks last week showed a picture of Mahommed holding a sign saying “Je suis Charlie”, beneath the words “All is forgiven”.

Some Muslim authorities have said the front page was “blasphemous” because within the Muslim religion it is forbidden to publish images of Mahommed.

But while such an image might be against the religious laws of Islam it is not against the laws of France.

“It is blasphemy for a Muslim, he [or she] is concerned by Islamic precepts. But a non-Muslim - he [or she] has the right to do what he wants”, said Imam Abdelali Mamoun, the presenter of “Islam Today” on a French radio station whose target audience is listeners with a North African background.

There is one anomaly which Prime Minister Manuel Valls forgot to mention.

In the Eastern France region of Alsace Moselle, a blasphemy law is still in the penal code.

This dates from the period just after 1870 when German law was applied in this part of France, (which is on the Franco-German border) but as the law has never been in official legal publications in French and is therefore automatically inapplicable.

In a strange coincidence, the day before the terrorist killings at Charlie Hebdo last week, representatives of all the religions in Alsace, including representatives of the Muslim faith, had called for the blasphemy law to be revoked, as it had fallen into disuse.

However, if people of any religion find a publication or words concerning their beliefs shocking, there are avenues they can pursue under French law.

Most complaints regarding such matters in France refer to the 1881 law concerning the press.

Article 24 of this law covers offences “incitation to discrimination, to hate or to violence [….] because of affiliation […] to an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a particular religion.”

Article 32 concerns defamation in the same context.

The Charlie Hebdo caricatures of Mahomet led to legal actions under article 24 and on each occasion judges ruled in favour of Charle Hebdo.

Blasphemy laws do exist in eight EU countries.

Elsewhere in the world blasphemy is a serious crime.
A Saudi blogger was condemned to ten years in prison and a thousand whiplashes after criticising the religious police.

In Pakistan and in Iran blasphemy is punishable by death. In 2014 Asia Bibi a Pakistani Christian was so sentenced.

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