PARIS, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Heavy sentences handed down in a French crackdown on speech, after the Jan. 7 attacks in Paris, have raised concerns from lawyers and human rights groups.
Between Jan. 7 and Jan. 29, the French Justice Ministry reported, 486 legal cases related to the attack on the Paris office of the magazine Charlie Hebdo and related incidents in which 20 people died; in 257 cases, the charges involved people accused of condoning, advocating or provoking terrorism. Forty-one have already proceeded through the court system, resulting in 18 people receiving prison sentences.
One was a man arrested for drunk driving who shouted "There should be more Kourachis. I hope that you'll be next," at police officers, a reference to the name of the two brothers behind the Charlie Hebdo attack. After a quick trial he was sentenced to four years imprisonment. Another man, arrested for lacking a ticket on public transportation, told ticket inspectors, "The Kouachi brothers were just the start. I wish I'd been with them to kill more," and received a ten-month sentence.
Earlier this week a boy in France, 8, was questioned by police for saying, "I am with the terrorists," although he admitted he was unaware of the definition of terrorism.
"Not only is this repression absurd and useless, but it is dangerous. It's the defeat of reason. And we can't allow it to happen," Paris lawyer and writer Maitre Eolas wrote in a blog post.
The response to the Jan. 7 incident, in which Islamist militants stormed the office of a magazine famous for insulting religion, came after France's Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, ordered prosecutors to take action against those advocating terrorism or committing racist or anti-Semitic crimes. The response to relatively innocuous crimes, such as verbally insulting police officers while drunk and while mentioning the Jan. 7 attacks, has no relation to terrorism, Michel Tubiana, a lawyer with the French human rights group La Ligue des Droits de l'Homme, said.
"It's a serious infringement which risks not just the unjustified pursuit of people but also risks self-censorship in the media and in public debate," Tubiana said.
The human rights advocates Amnesty International has recommended "measures that protect everyone's rights" in decrying the speed and heavy-handedness of the crackdown.
"Free speech has to include the right to insult Islam. Not because necessarily anyone approves of insulting Islam, but simply because free speech by definition is the stuff you don't approve of. Extending special privilege to Islam corrodes free speech," said writer Mark Steyn.