Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech: Right or no right to offend?

THE recent attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has re-ignited the debate on the limits of freedom of expression and the right to offend.

Pope Francis joined in the debate last week when he said "one cannot make fun of faith" and those who deride other faiths can expect to provoke a strong, even violent, response. His comments prompted a strong response from British Prime Minister David Cameron who defended the right to speech that gives offence to other people's religious beliefs.

Here's a look at the arguments on both sides of the debate:

No right to offend

"It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."

"If my good friend Dr (Alberto) Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch."

- Pope Francis said on board a flight from Colombo to Manila last Thursday (Jan 15). To illustrate his point, he pretended to throw a punch at his aide Dr Gasparri. The Vatican later clarified that the pope's comments and gesture were "in no way intended to be interpreted as a justification for the violence and terror that took place in Paris."


"Turkey will not allow (Prophet) Muhammad to be insulted...Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to insult."

- Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu


"We cannot follow ultimate freedom. Coincidentally, my statement coincides with what the Pope (Francis) said. If we want the world to be peaceful, we must create a situation whereby we have to bear full responsibility over our actions. In the case of Charlie Hebdo, although murder is prohibited in religion, there will be people like that if we do not respect the religious sensitiveness of others,"

- Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak


"There's freedom of expression, but there is also freedom not to offend, a duty not to offend.

- Shuja Shafi, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.


"Amidst our different cultures and perspectives, we must continue to respect one another. Everyone has a role and responsibility to preserve the harmony and the community that we live in. The right to speak freely and responsibly must go together."

- Singapore Minister for Communications and Information and Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim

Right to offend

"I think in a free society, there is a right to cause offence about someone's religion.

"I'm a Christian; if someone says something offensive about Jesus, I might find that offensive, but in a free society I don't have a right to wreak vengeance on them...We have to accept that newspapers, magazines, can publish things that are offensive to some, as long as it's within the law. That is what we should defend."

- British Prime Minister David Cameron


"(France) is a country that has rules, principles and values. One of them is not negotiable - freedom and democracy."

- French President Francois Hollande


"This is an attack against the values we all hold dear, values by which we stand, values of freedom of the press, freedom in general and the dignity of man.

- German Chancellor Angela Merkel


"I don't think people should engage in casual insults, but nevertheless… accept that in the course of having a robust democracy a lot of people will be offended, a lot of people will be insulted.

"You know the really encouraging thing, if we can draw any encouragement out of the recent tragedies in Sydney and in Paris, is that more and more Muslim people seem to be saying 'look, there is a value in diversity, we do have to adopt the position of live and let live'.

- Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott


"You may not agree with what they (Charlie Hebdo) have done, you may be offended by what they have done, but you should defend their right to publish it."

- London Mayor Boris Johnson