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Charlie Hebdo journalist walks away after magazine goes ‘soft’ on Islamic radicalism

(Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

Zineb El Rhazoui, known for being one of Charlie Hebdo's most outspoken journalists, is walking away from the controversial French satire outlet because it has gone "soft" on Islamic radicalism.

"Charlie Hebdo died on [Jan. 7, 2015]," she told the Agence France-Presse, referring to the day a gunman opened fire at the magazine's French offices, killing 12 people.

Rhazoui, who has, according to the New York Times, become known as the "most protected woman" in France due to the 24-hour security detail that follows her everywhere, accused the weekly magazine of kowtowing to Islamic extremists and no longer printing caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, which is what inspired the horrific 2015 attack.

She is now questioning the publication's "capacity to carry the torch of irreverence and absolute liberty," telling the AFP: "Freedom at any cost is what I loved about Charlie Hebdo, where I worked through great adversity."

The 35-year-old journalist's exit, which she first hinted at in September of last year, follows internal turmoil and the departure of cartoonist Luz and columnist Patrick Pelloux. She said Charlie Hebdo is "not the same after the loss of so many of the original [staff]."

Riss, who took over as editor of the magazine after Stephane Charbonnier was killed in the attack, seemed to suggest the magazine is fearful of what would happen if it poked fun at Islam again.

"We get the impression that people have become even more intolerant of Charlie," he said. "If we did a front cover showing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad now, who would defend us?"

Riss' perspective marks a shift in the time since the assault. In the days following the shooting, supporters poured into the streets of Paris and other cities around the world to show solidarity with the magazine, carrying signs that read, "Je suis Charlie," which means "I am Charlie."

Emboldened by the strong show of support, Charlie Hebdo doubled down on its Muhammad caricature in January 2015. In the first issue since the attack, the magazine again published a cartoon of the prophet, who was depicted holding a "Je suis Charlie" sign under the headline, "Tout Est Pardonné," which means, "All is forgiven."

That cover, according to Riss, is the last one that will feature Muhammad. He said in 2016 that the satirical publication would no longer print cartoons of the Muslim prophet. "We’ve done our job. We have defended the right to caricature," he said.

Two years after the deadly shooting, cartoonists are still facing death threats, judicial harassment and censorship threats, according to Reporters Without Borders, an international nonprofit organization that defends press freedom.

"Since the Charlie tragedy, many cartoonists have lived under constant political, religious and economic pressure, and pressure from non-state groups as well," Christophe Deloire, director-general of RWB, told Euro News.

He continued:

Accusations of offending religion are too often used as a tool of political censorship. It is essential to remember that international law protects cartoonists because it safeguards the right to express and disseminate opinions that may offend, shock or disturb.

How you wield a pencil can still lead to violent reprisals. Only too often, cartoonists pay a high prize for their irony and impertinence. The threats they receive are barometers of free speech, acting as indicators of the state of democracy in times of trouble.

Rhazoui, for her part, said she had "not written a line" for Charlie Hebdo in a year. She has, though, published two books, the latest of which is called, "Destroy Islamic Fascism." She was in Morocco when the magazine was attacked.

One last thing…
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