A French court has ruled in favour of a satirical weekly magazine that had printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
The court on Thursday said the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo were covered by freedom of expression laws and did not constitute an attack on Islam in general but on fundamentalists.
The cartoons, originally published in 2005 by a Danish daily, provoked violent protests in Asia, Africa and the Middle East that left 50 people dead. Several European publications reprinted them as an affirmation of free speech.
Islamic groups said the cartoons incited hatred against Muslims.
The Paris Grand Mosque, World Islamic League and Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) sued the magazine over its publication of two of the Danish caricatures and one of its own.
The Muslim groups said the cartoon showing a bomb in the Prophet's turban slandered all Muslims as terrorists, as did Charlie Hebdo's cartoon showing the Prophet reacting to Islamist fighters by saying: "It's hard to be loved by idiots."
"This is an attack on Muslims," Lhaj Thami Breze, UOIF president, had told the court. "It is as if the Prophet taught terrorism to Muslims, and so all Muslims are terrorists."
But the judges said that while the cartoon picturing the bomb in the Prophet's turban could offend Muslims if seen on its own, the picture had to be judged in the context of the magazine issue, which had discussed religious fundamentalism.
Even if the cartoon in itself was "shocking or hurting for Muslims, there is no deliberate desire to offend them", the court said.
Philippe Val, Charlie Hebdo chief editor, has said he published the caricatures in February last year after the editor-in-chief of the Paris tabloid France Soir was fired for reprinting them.