by Allanah Leahy – EM TV Online
Three million people throughout France were joined by over 40 leaders from around the world, who linked arms in Paris to lead a unity march, Reuters reports.
The world leaders included French President Francois Hollande, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President of Mali Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, German Chancellor Angela Markel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, among others.
The protest is the biggest public demonstration ever registered in France, and follows the death of 17 people during three days of deadly attacks in Paris last week.
The demonstrations were carried out in respectful silence in honour of the assassination of 12 journalists from satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, as well as the killing of a policewoman and four hostages on Friday. The assailants were killed by French police in two separate operations.
Charlie Hebdo’s content poked fun at sensitive political and religious issues humorously, with robust use of freedom of speech despite many threats they received, mainly from Islam audiences. Charlie Hebdo’s editor Stephane Charbonnier, who was killed in the attack along with the magazine’s founder, had previously told French daily Le Monde in 2012:
“I have no wife and kids, no car, no credit. What I’m about to say might seem pompous, but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”
Charbonnier had also expressed a desire to continue on ‘until Islam became as trivialised as Catholicism.’
The protests have been echoed globally, marking a worldwide awareness for freedom of expression. In New Caledonia, 4,000 people attended a march to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo attacks. In Vienna, 12,000 rallied as well as people in Beirut who took to the streets in protest.
The worldwide protests follow a solid social media campaign, with hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (“I am Charlie”) embodying the fight for freedom of expression and gaining over five million reposts.
In France, some 2,200 police and soldiers stood guard over the marchers, stationed on rooftops and among the crowd in plain-clothes.
“We’re not going to let a little gang of hoodlums run our lives,” Fanny Applebaum, 75, told Reuters. “Today, we are all one.”
Despite the show of unity, the attacks have presented many complexities faced across cultures regarding free speech, religion and security.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said of the attacks:
“I know our media fraternity in Papua New Guinea will be acutely aware of this horrific attack, and will lament the tragic loss of their international colleagues. Free speech underpins our way of life in free countries.”