US & Canada

Charlie Hebdo receives disputed PEN award in New York

A man holds a placard which reads "I am Charlie" to pay tribute during a gathering at the Place de la Republique in Paris 7 January 2015 Image copyright Reuters

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has received a controversial freedom of speech award at the PEN Literary Gala in New York on Tuesday.

Six prominent authors boycotted the event, saying it celebrated the magazine's "cultural intolerance".

Islamists stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in January after the magazine published drawings of the Prophet Muhammad.

On Sunday, two gunmen were killed at a draw-the-Prophet competition in Dallas.

PEN president Andrew Solomon said: "The defence of people murdered for their exercise of free speech is at the heart of what PEN stands for.

"Charlie Hebdo's current staff have persisted, and tonight's award reflects their refusal to accept the curtailment of lawful speech through violence."

Charlie Hebdo's editor in chief, Gerard Biard and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a film critic who arrived late for work on the day of the attack, were at the gala to accept the award.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Charlie Hebdo's editor in chief Gerard Biard (L) and Jean-Baptiste Thoret accepted the award

Mr Thoret has rejected any comparison between the Paris and Dallas attacks.

"To be honest, I can imagine the kind of comparison you can make between the Charlie Hebdo attack of January 7 and this event, but there is nothing. There is no comparison, absolutely no comparison," he told PBS's Charlie Rose.

The film critic added that the attack in Texas was part on an "anti-Islamic movement" in the US.

Award boycott

The decision to award the magazine the Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo caused six high-profile authors to withdraw, including The English Patient writer Michael Ondaatje.

They said PEN - known for defending imprisoned writers - was stepping beyond its traditional role.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje won the Booker Prize for his novel The English Patient

Authors Peter Carey, Rachel Kushner, Teju Cole, Taiye Selasi and Francine Prose also boycotted the event.

Booker Prize-wining author Mr Carey told the New York Times that the boycotting writers felt PEN's role was to protect freedom of expression against government oppression.

"A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom of speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?" asked Mr Carey.

"All this is complicated by PEN's seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognise its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population."

In addition, more than 100 other writers signed a letter of protest against the award.

The boycott has been criticised by the author Salman Rushdie, a former president of PEN who was in hiding for years over Islamist threats in response to his novel The Satanic Verses.

He said his friends were "horribly wrong" and he hoped nobody ever came after them.

Related Topics

More on this story