Thousands of French Supporters Stand Up for Freedom of the Press

In Paris, a massive demonstration shows that the French will not be terrorized by the tragic attack on Charlie Hebdo

A demonstrator holds a sign reading "We are all with Charlie" in Paris' Place de la Republique on Wednesday

As night fell after a horrific day of terrorist attacks in the French capital, thousands of Parisians descended upon Place de la République—the city’s historical center of protest, or manifestation. Standing loudly in solidarity with the 12 journalists and staffers of Charlie Hebdo as well as French policemen who were murdered at the hands of terrorists earlier in the day, the protestors seemed the exact opposite of terrorized.

Demonstrators stood valiantly atop the statue of Marianne, the iconic symbol of French liberty and freedom that stands in the center of the square, leading the mass crowd in a peaceful call-and-response protest. In a country where freedom of expression is nothing less than sacred, protestors wielded pens as a symbol of democracy and shouted cries of “La liberté, de crayon” (“Freedom of the pen”), “Nous sommes Charlie” (We are Charlie), and “Charliberté.” The signature epithet of the tragedy, “Je suis Charliewas seen prominently throughout the vigil.

"Liberty, the pen, brotherhood"

At the end of a day that seemed to have a constant background noise of police sirens in nearly every corner of the city, French daily newspaper Le Monde reported that three suspects had been identified. Though the manhunt is ongoing, Parisians at tonight’s vigil seem completely unfazed. The gathering seemed to only attract more participants throughout the evening, despite road and Metro station closures, as well as a heavy police presence.

The worst attack on French soil since 1961, today’s events are also the first time in a post-9/11 world that Parisians have faced such a direct and brazen attack on an institution—press freedom—that the nation holds incredibly dear and central to its identity. The general feeling in the city throughout the day, while not totally normal, was far from one of fear and cowering. As French President Francois Hollande has declared a National Day of Mourning for the country tomorrow, it’s clear that though Paris will wake up tomorrow as a different city, its people are not deterred.

Julian Meehan

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