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Charlie Hebdo : testing the limits of freedom of expression

Shah, Niaz A.



The right to freedom of expression is a qualified right: it allows expression that might ‘offend, shock or disturb’ but prohibits ‘insults’, ‘abusive attacks’ and ‘hate speech’. Applying the Convention test I argue that all cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which although might offend Muslims, are an acceptable form of expression in Western democracies except cartoon number two implying the Prophet Muhammad as a ‘terrorist’ which is ‘insulting’ and ‘an abusive attack’ on the Muslim community and Islam. In the post-9/11 circumstances, it may be viewed as a vehicle for instigating hatred against the Muslim community. By critiquing the inaction of Denmark and France, I argue that failure to prosecute Jyllands-Posten and Charlie Hebdo violates Articles 9(1) of the European Convention and the Danish Criminal Code and the French Freedom of Press Act 1881. Relying on ECtHR’s jurisprudence, I argue that the values of the Convention and democracy aim to nurture a society based on tolerance, social peace, non-discrimination and broad-mindedness. The public space is a shared space and no single group – religious and non-religious – can monopolise nor intimidate it.


Shah, N. A. (2017). Charlie Hebdo : testing the limits of freedom of expression. Muslim World Journal of Human Rights, 14(1), 83-111.

Acceptance Date May 22, 2017
Online Publication Date Jun 6, 2017
Publication Date 2017-06
Deposit Date Jun 14, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jun 12, 2018
Journal Muslim world journal of human rights
Electronic ISSN 1554-4419
Publisher De Gruyter
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 1
Pages 83-111
Keywords Freedom of religion; Freedom of expression; Cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad; Insults; Abusive attacks; Tolerance; Public space; Broad-mindedness; Non-discrimination
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the accepted manuscript of an article published in Muslim world journal of human rights, 2017. The version of record is available at the DOI link in this record.


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