[Editor’s note: Just as I started working on the Charlie Hebdo page in the AAEC’s annual year-end publication, news broke on the trial of 14 individuals accused of assisting the two gunmen who murdered 11 cartoonists and employees of the French satirical paper in 2015. Here’s a brief timeline of what happen this year.]
Five years after the deadly terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo that killed 12 people, the French satirical publication was back in the news. And as 2020 rolled on, the events surrounding the cartoonists of the paper, the people of France, and, well, the very survival of free speech, got much worse. Here’s an abbreviated timeline of Charlie Hebdo’s no-good-very-bad year. — JP Trostle
January: France marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with street ceremonies and social media tributes. The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (“I am Charlie”) trended again as thousands posted messages honouring the victims.
A ceremony took place outside Charlie Hebdo’s former offices in Paris, attended by former French President François Hollande and other luminaries.
One of the images shared by many on Twitter was a mural by street artist Christian Guémy, which depicts the faces of the Charlie Hebdo editorial staff and others who were shot five years ago.
The weekly magazine, which published a special issue marking the anniversary with contributions from the victims’ relatives, tweeted: “It was five years ago, it was a century ago, it was yesterday. We do not forget and we will always continue: to speak, to write, to draw.”
Even as France’s culture ministry called for a plan to create a centre dedicated to celebrating and educating the public on “press cartoons and satirical cartoons,” many French cartoonists said the feeling of unity under “Je Suis Charlie” was gone.
Some thought satire was in trouble and that the terrorists won, aided by fearful editors, cowardly censors, cynical politicians, and an angry public.
September: The day before the 14 individuals accused of helping two Islamist attackers carry out their gun rampage in 2015 were scheduled to go on trial, Charlie Hebdo republished the infamous 2005 Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on its front cover.
The satirical periodical featured the 12 original cartoons which were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten before later appearing in Charlie Hebdo. One of the cartoons shows the prophet wearing a bomb instead of a turban. The French headline reads “Tout ça pour ça” (“All of that for this”).
In its editorial, the magazine said that it has often been asked to carry on printing caricatures of the prophet since the 2015 killings. “We have always refused to do so, not because it is prohibited—the law allows us to do so—but because there was a need for a good reason to do it, a reason which has meaning and which brings something to the debate,” it says.
“To reproduce these cartoons in the week the trial opens seemed essential to us.”
In the weeks that followed, protestors in France, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Chechnya and Yemen took to the streets to agitate against the Muhammad cartoons.
Demonstrations in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad turned violent as some 2,000 people who tried to march toward the French Embassy were pushed back by police firing tear gas and beating protesters.
October: The violence returned to France in fall. After teacher Samuel Paty showed his class the cartoons as part of a lesson on free speech, a radicalized 18-year-old Chechen refugee hunted down the Parisian educator and beheaded him in the street with a knife.
A short time later, police responding to the situation shot and killed the teen. Four other teens were eventually arrested for pointing out the teacher to his killer.
A week later, a knife-wielding attacker shouting “Allahu Akbar” killed three people in a church in the city of Nice. A Tunisian national was later charged with the murders. A defiant french President Macron, declaring that France had been subject to an Islamist terrorist attack, said he would deploy thousands more soldiers to protect important French sites, such as places of worship and schools.
November: Turkish President Recep Erdogan tried to make an international incident out of another Charlie Hebdo cartoon — this one mocking the Turkish strongman — going so far as to compare himself to the Prophet Mohammed
Erdogan, who continues to jail Turkish journalists and cartoonists on trumped up charges, demanded France prosecute both the editor-in-chief of the newspaper and the cartoonist for “insulting the President of the Republic.”
December: On Dec. 16, a French court convicted 14 people — three in absentia— in the 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo. The judges in the trial handed down prison sentences of four years to life, for crimes ranging from financing terrorism to supporting and assisting the gunmen who massacred cartoonists at satirical weekly.
Sources: The Daily Cartoonist, Aljazeera, celebsnet.com, theartnewspaper.com, BBC, abc.net.au, theprint.in, Reuters, NY Post, ibTimes.com, and AP.news.
Cartoon by Joel Pett