France has sentenced a Pakistani immigrant who occasionally officiates as an imam at a local mosque for 18 months in prison and has banned him for life from the country for “condoning terrorism.”
The man was prosecuted for posting videos in front of the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo — the French satirical magazine that published caricatures of Prophet Muhammad and sustained a horrific attack for doing so — praising the culprits of September 25 attack in which an ‘Islamist militant’ injured two people with knives at that very location. The French officials condemned that attack as an act of religious cabalism. “This is clearly an act of Islamist terrorism”, the French Interior Minister said.
Luqman Haider, a 33-year old Pakistani citizen and an imam at Villiers-le-Bel, arrived in France in 2015 after a four-year-long tumultuous journey. He had posted three videos in which he had reportedly made laudatory comments on acts of terrorism.
In one of the videos, Haider had praised the perpetrator of the September 25 stabbing attack in front of the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. He lauded that attacker as a “brave man known throughout Pakistan”, and had earned “status” and “honour” before the Prophet. The attacker was also an 18-year old Pakistani immigrant named Ali.
In another video, Haider speaks of “attacking non-Muslims and disbelievers” and “sending them to hell.”
The judge Stephen Bullet sentenced him for 18-month imprisonment, saying that, after his laudatory remarks on terrorism, the democratic state of France will not allow him to live in the country anymore.
Haider said in the court that his motive of emigrating from Pakistan was to “flee from the country of poverty.” He had finally landed in Villiers-le-Bel where “a large Pakistani community” resides.
After a series of attacks of what France calls “Islamist terrorism”, the Macron government has implemented a “no-tolerance” policy against foreign imams who can potentially play a role in encouraging terrorism in France. The French government has also taken steps towards ending a programme that allowed foreign countries to send imams and teachers in France. The president has said that he aims to end “foreign interference” in how religion is practised and how religious institutions operate in France.