Russians outraged after Charlie Hebdo cartoons ‘ridicule’ Sinai plane crash

© Eric Gaillard
Russians have reacted with anger after the French satirical magazine published caricatures of the Russian passenger aircraft crashing in Egypt. Social media in Russia has erupted in fury at the portrayal, with users condemning its publication by Charlie Hebdo.

One Twitter user questioned why the staff at Charlie Hebdo hadn’t printed a cartoon of the members of their team who were shot by jihadists in Paris in January. The user added sarcastically, “That would have been really funny for them.”

Others said that people should just start to “ignore” these “disgusting provocations,” as their creators are trying to “provoke a reaction.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo “blasphemy.”

“In our country, this would be called 'blasphemy.' It has nothing to do with democracy or with self-expression. It is just blasphemy,” Peskov said.

“My colleagues and I tried to find caricatures of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in the magazine, who were shot by terrorists. We were unable to find them. But if they were published, then it would also be blasphemy, well at least in our country,” he added.

The concept of blasphemy does not exist for the French magazine, its chief editor said, commenting on the Kremlin press secretary’s reaction. “I don’t understand it. We are a secular, democratic and atheistic publication,” Gerard Briard told the Russian office of French RFI radio station.

We comment on the news, just like all other publications do... There are no caricature characters on these drawings. We are just commenting on the event and show our own view,” Charlie Hebdo’s editor added.

READ MORE: ​Charlie Hebdo cartoonist: ‘I will no longer draw Mohammed’

A Russian lawmaker called the cartoon, which shows the plane falling near a jihadist fighter, “blasphemy” and an “insult.”

“I believe it is blasphemy and ridicules the memory of those who lost their lives as a result of this catastrophe. This should not be used by any media organizations in any form whatsoever or in any particular genre in which they may specialize,” said Igor Morozov, a member of the Federation Council.

The first cartoon shows parts of the aircraft and a passenger falling toward the ground, while an Islamic State militant, armed with a gun, ducks for cover to avoid the falling debris. Underneath the caricature is the caption: “Daesh: Russia’s aviation intensifies its bombardments.”

Morozov said that the Sinai plane crash “should not be ridiculed.”

He added: “In trying to be original, Charlie Hebdo have plunged everything into shock. Remember the tragedy which happened in January 2015 concerning the publisher. I think that the journalists are provoking acts of violence.”

The second showed a skull and a burned-out plane on the ground, with the caption: “The dangers of low-cost Russia. I should have taken Air Cocaine.” The authors were referring to two French pilots who fled the Dominican Republic to escape arrest for allegedly trying to transport 680 kilograms of the drug.

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, wrote on her Facebook page: “Is anyone still Charlie?” in a reference to the catchphrase “JeSuisCharlie” used by many people to express sympathy with the victims of a brutal terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters in Paris in January after it published satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Serbian film director Emir Kusturica told the Russian television station REN-TV that Charlie Hebdo’s latest publication was a “clear provocation.”

“I have not seen these caricatures yet, but this is really scary, if the journalists from this publication have published these sorts of things in a satirical way. I think that this is really a clear provocation.”

The Sinai tragedy occurred when a Metrojet Airbus 321, bound for St Petersburg with 224 people on board, crashed in the desert just 23 minutes after taking off from the resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh on October 31. The investigation is still ongoing, but a terrorist attack is among the possible causes of the crash.

Charlie Hebdo has continued to court controversy since the attack on its headquarters. In August, it published a cartoon after the discovery of plane wreckage confirmed to belong to missing Malaysian Airline flight MH370.

The cover of the edition showed a pair of hands groping what appeared to be at first glance coconuts, but was actually a pair of breasts. Above the image is written what translates as: "We've found a bit of the pilot and the air hostess," as two onlookers celebrate in the background.

A month later, the publication mocked the drowning of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi who died during a perilous journey across the Mediterranean to try and reach Europe along with his family. The poster showed Jesus walking on water with the dead Muslim boy next to him.

The cartoon, dubbed “Welcome, migrants,” featured a gruesome picture of the drowned three-year-old lying face down on the beach. “So close to the goal,” the caption read in French.

The second page was titled “The proof that Europe is Christian.” It featured the legs of a drowning child and a man, apparently depicting Jesus Christ walking on water.

“Christians walk on water… Muslims kids sink,” the caption said.

There was uproar on social media concerning the mocking of Aylan’s death, with some users describing Charlie Hebdo as a “bunch of deluded racists” who shouldn’t be called “journalists,” while others simply asked: “JeSuisCharlie now?”