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Free speech advocates condemn attack on Charlie Hebdo

People gather in solidarity with the victims of an attack against a satirical magazine, in Paris, 7 January 2015
People gather in solidarity with the victims of an attack against a satirical magazine, in Paris, 7 January 2015

AP Photo/Thibault Camus

Free expression advocates worldwide are reacting to news of today's attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which left 10 magazine staff and 2 police officers dead, and others severely injured, according to The Guardian.

At approximately 11:30am on 7 January 2015, two gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, located in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, and opened fire. The attackers fled the magazine's offices and are still at large. French authorities have raised the national terror alert to its highest level, and have increased security around news media offices, schools, houses of worship, and transportation centres in Paris.

Today's attack on Charlie Hebdo – while undeniably the most violence the publication has ever faced – was not the first. The magazine's offices were firebombed in 2011 after having published a spoof issue, which was said to be “guest edited” by the Prophet Mohamed.

Free expression advocates react

Among the many IFEX members who condemn the attack are Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based group that states today's attack “marks a black day in the history of France.”

Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) also issued a powerful statement, saying, “We are in awe at the courage of the French cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, we look forward to the next issue, and admire the society and environment that promotes this level of free speech.”

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19 called the attack “…a deplorable and malicious act of cowardice that must be universally condemned.”

Barbara Trionfi, Interim Executive Director of the International Press Institute (IPI) said that the attack “represents an assault on democratic values.”

And Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship noted that: “The ability to express ourselves freely is fundamental to a free society. This includes the freedom to publish, to satirise, to joke, to criticise, even when that might cause offence to others. Those who wish to silence free speech must never be allowed to prevail.”

Countless other IFEX members have written heartfelt reflections on today's events as well, including Freedom House, The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, Foro de Periodismo Argentino, the International Publishers Association, PEN International, Human Rights Watch, The International Federation of Journalists, The Committee to Protect Journalists, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Norwegian PEN, the Inter American Press Association, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, Freedom Forum, Espacio Público, The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela Pacific Freedom Forum, The Alliance of Independent Journalists and more.

Global solidarity

But free expression advocates are not alone in their solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Shortly after the attack occurred, social media users began an online solidarity campaign using the hashtag “#jesuischarlie,” which, according to Bloomberg, has been used in 623,000 Twitter messages today.

Tens of thousands of people have also gathered in public places to show support for the victims of the attack. Le Monde has put together a Google Map of such rallies around the world, which range from France to Egypt, Colombia, the U.S. and Russia.

A plethora of cartoons have also arisen in response to the attack. Index on Censorship has compiled cartoonists' responses to today's events.

In a statement published today on PEN International's website that included reactions from many renowned authors, Salman Rushdie, who has himself been the target of death threats over his writing, wrote:

“I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity.”

[UPDATE: 8 January 2015] Index on Censorship, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, freeDimensional, PEN America, FreeWord, Reporters Without Borders and English PEN have published a call to all those who believe in the fundamental right to freedom of expression to join in publishing the cartoons or covers of Charlie Hebdo on 8 January at 1400 GMT. IFEX members who have participated include: ARTICLE 19, PEN America, Reporters Without Borders, Index on Censorship, and PEN Canada.

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