Poster for the “We are the nation” campaign launched by the Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France in 2012
A French journalist is facing a criminal trial under the country’s strict press laws for remarks made during a radio debate about the influence of Islam.
Ivan Rioufol, 61, believes the way he is being treated is an example of how writers are criminalised when the state is able to control the media. He was summoned to court under strict press laws which date back to the 19th Century following a complaint from a pressure group called the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF).
“In seeking to undermine liberty of expression, a sacred principle of our civilisation, the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) takes the risk of appearing like a menace to democracy,” said Mr Rioufol. “This is essentially what I hope to be able to explain in court, because I will have to appear in a few months before the 17th Criminal Court in Paris.”
Mr Rioufol, who has written for Le Figaro newspaper for almost 28 years, made some allegedly defamatory remarks on November 15th 2012 during an RTL radio programme called “We Reshape the World.” Mr Rioufol particularly objected to a CCIF poster campaign which showed pictures of predominantly bearded and veiled Muslims under the slogan “We are the Nation”. The journalist said that this was against the spirit of France’s inclusive, secular republic – something which CCIF objected to.
Mr Rioufol said that France’s 1881 Press Law was being used to “penalise criticism, intimidate journalists, censor the media” and even “to reintroduce the offence of blasphemy”. The 1881 law was nominally meant to guarantee the “freedom of the press” but in fact criminalised a range of journalistic behaviour. So called “press offenses” ranged from insulting the President of France, to defaming private citizens through comment.
Mr Rioufol said about the case’s first hearing: “The judge reminded me that he himself had no opportunity to verify the existence of the alleged offense, the procedure – Press Law 1881 – leading automatically to court, where the case will be considered on its merits.” Mr Rioufol said the law was “easily manipulated” by those who wanted to persecute journalists.
A spokesman for CCIF said it had a duty to challenge “Islamophobia” and the press laws were a logical way of challenging journalism it objected to. “Mr Rioufol will in court seek to prove that his words were true – one of the defences against defamation.”
As you would expect from the Mail, the headline to the report (“French journalist is prosecuted under 19th century press law for questioning Islam during a radio debate”) is completely inaccurate.
The CCF took action against Rioufol not because he “questioned Islam” but because he slandered the CCIF, accusing them of representing “radical” and “fundamentalist” Islam and claiming that their “Nous sommes la nation” campaign was an “Islamist offensive”.
As the CCIF explained: “The law of 29 July 1881 set limits on the exercise of freedom of expression because its initiators were aware that some people may abuse this right. If freedom of expression is guaranteed, it however excludes the act of abusing and slandering others.”
Nor did the CCIF’s poster campaign feature “veiled women”, as the Mail alleges. As you can see, the posters featured Muslim women wearing headscarves but not a single individual wearing a face-veil. But then, what else can you expect from a newspaper that can’t tell the hijab from the niqab?
This is of course an ideal story from the Mail‘s standpoint. It allows the paper to scaremonger over the supposed threat of state-backed restrictions on the press and at the same time whip up the indignation of its readers over what it portrays as yet another attempt by Muslims to suppress legitimate criticism of their faith.
The Mail has appears to have succeeded in achieving both aims. Here are some readers’ comments on the report:
“Cleary an organisation that has something to hide, but what do you expect when you have a religion firmly anchored in the Middle Ages.”
“It’s about time people stand up and voice their concerns, although when you do this your called a right wing racist. I wonder if we will look back in 50yrs time and say maybe the EDL had the right idea?”
“Leveson’s plan in action.”
“Prepare for jail my man. You have dared to question the motives of Islam and so you must be squashed. Freedom of speech belongs only to them and the law allows it.”
“So in France you can’t voice your objections to the country becoming an Islamic state?”
“That’s the main problem no-one can question anything to do with Islam or anything else to do with immigration and their demands on the EU that’s why the EU counties are in such a mess and governed by the MINORITIES dictating demands at every turn knowing they will get their demands met slowly but surely eroding away the host countries values and culture.”
“What is the world coming to it seems like non muslims have no rights anymore, shame on you.”
“This will certainly open the debate in France about this particular religion and its apparent continuing conflict with democracy.”
“From the Europeans Ive talked with I get the feeling theres going to be a huge backlash against this state enforced PC nonsense.”
“Coming soon to Britian,thanks to Red Ed and that has been actor Hugh Grant.”
“Only minorities have freedom of speech now.”