memorandum by Mr Legendre, rapporteur
1 The facts
1 On 7 January 2015, two young Frenchmen entered the
offices of the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo and
killed 12 people, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and
saying that they had avenged the Prophet Muhammad. Among the victims
were journalists, analysts, cartoonists and staff as well as two
policemen exercising their duty. The killers, who managed to escape,
were killed by the police two days later. They claimed to be acting
in the name of “Al Qaeda in the Yemen”.
2 On 8 January, another Frenchman shot and killed a police woman
in cold blood in Paris and, on 9 January, took more than 20 hostages
in a kosher supermarket, immediately killing four of them; the perpetrator
was killed by the police and the other hostages were freed. The
four hostages killed were Jewish. The killer alleged that he was
acting in co-ordination with the two other murderers and pledged
allegiance to the terrorist organisation known as the “Islamic State”.
3 The French police established that the three murderers had
had contacts with each other and with known jihadists, both in prison
and elsewhere, and that at least one of them had been to the Yemen,
where he had some military training. “Al Qaeda in the Yemen” claimed
responsibility for the attacks one week later.
4 The President of the Parliamentary Assembly, the Secretary
General of the Council of Europe and the Chairperson-in-office of
the Committee of Ministers joined world leaders in condemning the
attacks. Many Muslim religious leaders also condemned the attacks.
5 On 11 January, a massive demonstration took place in Paris
to express support for freedom of expression and the values of democracy,
solidarity with the victims of the attacks and the rejection of
violence. Many European – and some non-European – heads of State
and government gathered in Paris to show solidarity and support.
6 On 14 January, one week after the attack, Charlie Hebdo issued another copy
of the magazine, with a drawing supposedly of Prophet Muhammad on
the cover page, sparking protest demonstrations in parts of the Muslim
world, including Pakistan, Niger and the Chechen Republic of the
7 On 14 January, the German Government adopted several measures
against terrorism, aimed mainly at preventing young Europeans from
travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight.
8 On 15 January, the Belgian police dismantled a terrorist network
planning attacks against the police. Two jihadists recently returned
from Syria were killed in a confrontation with the police.
9 The fact that the three terrorists claimed to be acting “in
the name of Islam”, thus insulting the very religion they claimed
to defend, has prompted many Muslim religious leaders, representatives
of Islamic associations but also a large number of citizens of Muslim
confession to warn against the risk of stigmatisation.
10 The French authorities reacted promptly and reaffirmed firmly,
at the highest level, their commitment to protect the citizens of
Muslim confession and their places of worship, and to combat the
phenomena of Islamophobia, which have recently been on the rise.
11 At the same time, the fact that the three jihadists were French,
born and brought up in a disadvantaged neighbourhood, as well as
the fact that many people claiming to be Muslims, especially among
young people, took the side of the terrorists in the social media
networks, has prompted a twofold debate: on the one hand, on the
urgent need for a common, international but also specifically European
response to the jihadist threat and, on the other, on the need to
combat social exclusion, discrimination, violence and segregation,
which are the breeding grounds for terrorism and religious fanaticism.
12 Many intellectuals, mostly of Muslim confession, have also
reacted and have proposed a reflection on the need to revisit the
traditional texts of the Islamic faith and confront them with the
challenges of the modern world, thus offering a credible liberal
alternative to jihadism and other violent interpretations of the
13 As the very essence of the values of democracy and freedom
are being attacked in Europe, Europeans must find together the appropriate
democratic response in full respect of the values they wish to defend.
The events in Paris raise several issues, including the protection
of freedom of expression and its relationship with freedom of religion,
the fight against terrorism in Europe and the need to prevent radicalisation
and combat the causes of jihadism.
2 Protection of freedom
of expression and its relationship with freedom of religion
14 Critical dispute, artistic freedom and humour are
necessary in a free society. Only totalitarian systems are afraid
of these. A society which is unable to mock itself is a sick society.
Those who pretend that the cartoonists of Charlie
Hebdo brought it on themselves are trying to justify
15 In the aftermath of the attacks at the Charlie
Hebdo magazine, some newspapers and television channels
decided not to publish cartoons in fear of retaliation, should they
be perceived as offensive by Muslims. Is it not, however, more offensive
to publish the names and pictures of alleged representatives of terrorist
organisations and sometimes even let them justify terrorism on television?
It would be advisable that newspapers and television stations established
a code of conduct regarding the responsible coverage of terrorist
events, striking a balance between the need for freedom of information
and the imperatives of police action.
16 In Turkey, both the Prime Minister, just after his return
from the gathering of European leaders in Paris on 11 January in
support of the demonstration, and a Vice-Prime Minister, made public
declarations against the freedom of the press. Subsequently, the
Turkish daily Cumhurriyet was
investigated by the police and Internet sites were blocked by order
of the prosecutors, under the pretext that they may have offensive
content. Among many others, Amnesty International and the President
of the European Federation of Journalists have criticised the position
of the Turkish Government. The Assembly should add its voice to
17 The Paris events and subsequent reactions call for a quick
reminder of the relevant legal framework on freedom of expression
as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No.
5, “the Convention”).
In line with well-established case law of the European Court
of Human rightsNote
the use of satire, including irreverent satire, and information
or ideas that “offend, shock or disturb”, including criticism of
religion, are protected as part of freedom of expression under Article
10 of the Convention. “Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance
and broad-mindedness without which there is no democratic society.”
19 Freedom, however, comes with responsibility and it is for
the democratic institutions, including the courts, to strike a fair
balance between freedom of expression and its authorised restrictions,
in line also with the second paragraph of Article 10 of the Convention,
for example hate speech or incitement to violence. The final ruling
is ultimately given by the European Court of Human Rights.
In this context, we should recall Assembly Resolution 1510 (2006)
on freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs,
adopted in the wake of the Danish cartoons controversy, which stated
that “freedom of expression as protected under Article 10 of the
Convention should not be further restricted to meet increasing sensitivities
of certain religious groups”.
Upon a request by the Assembly included in this resolution,
the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission)
published, in 2008, a report on the relationship between freedom
of expression and freedom of religion: the issue of regulation and
prosecution of blasphemy, religious insult and incitement to religious
in which it confirmed that freedom
of expression, guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention, constitutes
one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one
of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s
self-fulfilment. The report reiterated the well-established case
law of the European Court of Human Rights according to which, subject
to paragraph 2 of Article 10, freedom of expression is applicable
not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received
or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also
to those that offend, shock or disturb.
22 According to the Venice Commission, democracy should not fear
debate, even on the most shocking or anti-democratic ideas. It is
through open discussion that these ideas should be countered and
the supremacy of democratic values demonstrated. Mutual understanding
and respect can only be achieved through open debate. Persuasion
through open public debate, as opposed to bans or repression, is
the most democratic means of preserving fundamental values.
23 In the Venice Commission’s view, in a true democracy, imposing
limitations on freedom of expression should not be used as a means
of preserving society from dissenting views, even if they are extreme.
24 The purpose of any restriction on freedom of expression must
be to protect individuals holding specific beliefs or opinions,
rather than to protect belief systems from criticism. The right
to freedom of expression implies that it should be allowed to scrutinise,
openly debate and criticise, even harshly and unreasonably, belief
systems, opinions, and institutions, as long as this does not amount
to advocating hatred against an individual or groups.
25 What is likely to cause substantial offence to persons of
a particular religious persuasion will vary significantly from time
to time and from place to place.
26 The Venice Commission agreed with the Parliamentary Assembly
that “in view of the greater diversity of religious beliefs in Europe
and the democratic principle of the separation of State and religion,
blasphemy laws should be reviewed by member States and parliaments”
and that “blasphemy, as an insult to a religion, should not be deemed
a criminal offence”.
27 The Venice Commission did not consider it necessary or desirable
to create an offence of religious insult (that is, insult to religious
feelings) without the element of incitement to hatred as an essential
component. If a statement or work of art does not qualify as incitement
to hatred, then it should not be the object of criminal sanctions.
28 However, the Venice Commission does not support absolute liberalism.
While there is no doubt that in a democracy all ideas, even shocking
or disturbing ones, should in principle be protected, it is equally
true that not all ideas deserve to be circulated. Since the exercise
of freedom of expression carries duties and responsibilities, it
is legitimate to expect from every member of a democratic society
that they avoid, as far as possible, expressions that express scorn
or are gratuitously offensive to others.
29 It must be stressed, however, that democratic societies must
not become hostage to these sensitivities and freedom of expression
must not indiscriminately retreat when faced with violent reactions.
The threshold of sensitivity of certain individuals may be too low
in certain specific circumstances, and incidents may even happen
in places other than, and far away from, those where the original
issue arose, and this should not become of itself a reason to prevent
any form of discussion on religious matters involving that particular religion:
the right to freedom of expression in a democratic society would
otherwise be jeopardised. It is the responsibility of everyone to
bear in mind that the respect for his freedom of expression also
requires the respect for the beliefs of others.
3 The fight against
terrorism in Europe
The Paris attacks call for measures to strengthen
the fight against terrorism and jihadism, but not to the detriment
of human rights, the rule of law and the defence of our common values.
In this context, the Assembly recalls its Resolution 1840 (2011)
on human rights and the fight against terrorism, in
which it stated that “the concept of ‘war on terror’ is misleading
and unhelpful and is a threat to the entire framework of international human
rights. Terrorists are criminals, not soldiers, and terrorist crimes
do not amount to acts of war”.
It is estimated that some 5 000 young Europeans have left
to fight in Syria and in Iraq and many of them are coming back to
Europe having acquired fighting skills. These people pose a considerable
security threat within Europe and must be closely monitored. In
its Resolution 2016 (2014)
dealing with the threats against humanity posed by the
terrorist group known as “IS”, the Assembly already urged the member
States of the Council of Europe to increase efforts to identify
Europeans fighting for the “IS”, as well as to identify and dismantle
recruitment channels, to prosecute those responsible and to exchange
information and co-ordinate their response to returning jihadists.
The Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy is currently preparing a
report on foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq.
32 Proposals have been made to deprive returning jihadists of
their European passports, should they have another nationality.
33 Law-enforcement, security and intelligence services should
be granted the appropriate means to cope with the situation and
services from different European countries should increase their
collaboration. Indiscriminate mass surveillance, however, has been
proved to be ineffective for the prevention of terrorism and is
therefore not only dangerous for the respect of human rights but
is also a waste of resources.
34 National records of persons condemned on terrorist charges
should be shared, as should operational information regarding actions
or movements of terrorists or terrorist networks, including foreign
terrorist fighters, in accordance with United Nations Security Council
Resolution 2178 (2014). In this respect, the European Parliament
has been asked to re-consider its position on the Passenger Name
Record (PNR) system, subject to appropriate data protection guarantees.
35 Serious attention should be paid to the ways into which money
and weapons end up in the hands of potential terrorists, in order
to dismantle such networks and punish the culprits.
4 The need to prevent
radicalisation and combat the root causes of jihadism
In its Resolution
on democracies facing terrorism, the Assembly stated
that “long-term prevention of terrorism must include a proper understanding
of its social, economic, political and religious roots and of the
individual’s capacity for hatred. If these issues are properly addressed,
it will be possible to seriously undermine the grass roots support
for terrorists and their recruitment networks”.
In its Resolution
“Fight against extremism: achievements, deficiencies
and failures”, the Assembly stated that: “The European public and
governments have become increasingly aware of the extent of the
threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism, an ideology which, although
remaining marginal in Europe, exerts a growing attraction among
young Muslims, finding fertile ground in their frustration caused
by racism, discrimination, social exclusion and unemployment, which
tend to affect them more than the rest of the population. This form
of extremism has led to a number of deadly terrorist attacks.”
38 The three French jihadists who killed 17 people in Paris had
met radical Islamists in prison and elsewhere. Two of them had served
prison sentences for operating a scheme to send young Europeans
to fight in Syria and in Iraq. One of them had received military
training in the Yemen.
39 We should pay more attention to the ways into which young
people are indoctrinated into terrorism, for instance in prisons
and, yes, in certain mosques too. The Internet and social media
should be more closely monitored with a view to fighting hate speech,
radicalisation and cyber-jihadism.
40 The Council of Europe could perhaps launch a public debate
on the compatibility of the different world views, including Islam,
with the functioning of a democratic State, where all human rights,
such as defined in the European Convention on Human Rights, are
Again we reiterate the statement our Assembly made in its Resolution 1754 (2010)
, the Assembly underlining that “[r]esolute action against
discrimination, emphasis on civic education and intercultural and inter-religious
dialogue, involvement of civil society and non-governmental organisations
– especially those representing segments of society which are excluded de jure
from ordinary channels of participation – in consultation
or decision-making processes are key instruments to reduce the potential
attraction of extremist groups and movements”, including jihadists.
42 Thus the Assembly called on Council of Europe member States
“to deal with this threat effectively while avoiding the stigmatisation
of Islam as a religion. More efforts should be made to fight against
Islamophobia and to combat the negative stereotyping of Islam and
Muslims in society”.
43 The fact that the three Paris terrorists had gone through
the French national education system is an indication that our European
education systems should be re-assessed. Some years ago the Council
of Europe launched initiatives in the field of education for democratic
citizenship; it is probably worth re-launching some of those activities.
Special attention should be given to education in marginalised and
44 More than an assault on freedom of expression, aimed
at silencing and intimidating critical voices, or yet another act
of anti-Semitic violence – which they also were – the Paris terrorist
attacks were also attacks against the very values of democracy and
freedom in general, against the type of society that our pan-European
Organisation has aimed at building since the end of the Second World
45 In the draft resolution, I have tried to summarise the main
Council of Europe principles and standards that are at stake and
in particular those concerning freedom of expression. I have also
addressed a number of recommendations to the Council of Europe member
States to take into account in their fight against terrorism and
the jihadist threat and tried to list the main challenges European
democracies should face if they want to prevent radicalisation and
combat the root causes of religious fanaticism.
Many of these proposals and challenges are in line with the
immediate actions the Secretary General of the Council of Europe
proposed “to combat radicalisation leading to extremism”, which
could be taken by the Organisation ahead of the Ministerial Session
in Brussels in May 2015.Note
47 For its part, I believe that the Assembly should continue
to follow closely and try to tackle, through the work of its committees
and the newly launched No Hate Parliamentary Alliance, the main
challenges rising from the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, namely:
the upsurge of the jihadist threat and the issue of foreign terrorist fighters;
the protection of human rights in the fight against terrorism; the
need to combat the root causes of radicalisation and religious fanaticism,
such as social exclusion, discrimination or even segregation; the process
of radicalisation in prisons; the continuing fight against hate
speech, racism and intolerance, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia;
and the role of education for democratic citizenship and intercultural