FRENCH-born SNP MSP Christian Allard last night called for January 7 to be Cartoonists’ Day as he defended the new front cover of Charlie Hebdo marking the first anniversary of the massacre at its offices.

Speaking to The National ahead of a debate in Holyrood today to commemorate the murders of the 12 workers a year ago, Allard defended the satirical publication, saying its role was to provoke and mock even if its cartoons upset some people and institutions.

He said the anniversary cover of the anniversary edition – which depicted God as a gun-wielding extremist – was an “great example” of its work.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “It shows they will keep on doing what they were doing before – to continue to mock and provoke – and show no respect to anyone. It’s what they are all about. We don’t need to like or even to buy Charlie Hebdo, but we need to make sure they have the right to freedom of expression.”

He added: “The tragic attack on Charlie Hebdo was not just an attack on one magazine. It was an attack on the principle of free speech.

“The right to free speech is an essential part of our society. An attack on our journalists and on our cartoonists is an attack on us all.

“Let’s make sure we continue to respond to terrorism by valuing and embracing freedom of speech and our right to disagree. Rather than January 7th solely being an anniversary of terrorism we should celebrate it as Cartoonists’ Day.”

On Tuesday the Vatican’s newspaper criticised Charlie Hebdo for the anniversary cover.

In a commentary, the Vatican daily Osservatore Romano said treatment of this kind towards religion “is not new” – and stressed that religious figures have repeatedly condemned violence in the name of God.

A million copies of the special edition hit France’s news stands yesterday with a cover featuring a bearded man representing God with a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder, accompanied by the text: “One year on: the assassin is still out there.”

Immediately after today’s Holyrood debate, professional cartoonist Terry Anderson will lead a discussion on freedom of expression at the Cross-Party Group on France which is chaired by Allard.

Anderson yesterday told The National that today’s commemoration at Holyrood was an opportunity to reflect on the plight of cartoonists being persecuted around the world.

“The Francophonic world cherishes and celebrates cartooning in a way quite unlike our own and this is undoubtedly part of the reason why the #JeSuisCharlie phenomenon unfolded as it did,” he said.

“However had the atrocity not taken place 2015 would still have been one of, if not the worst year for persecution of cartoonists; colleagues in Algeria, China, Ecuador, Iran, Malaysia, Palestine, Syria, Thailand and Turkey as well as France were variously harassed, threatened, prosecuted, fined and imprisoned for no greater misdeed than making satirical drawings.

“Twelve months on from the Charlie Hebdo killings they remain the most spectacular and bloody attack directed at our profession, sitting apart from a wider and more pernicious trend that is nonetheless a clear threat to freedom of expression.

It is appropriate that the Scottish Parliament take time to reflect upon these issues and I am pleased to accept Christian Allard’s kind invitation to participate.”

Twelve people were shot dead when the Paris headquarters of the magazine Charlie Hebdo came under attack.

Among those murdered were cartoonists Charb, Cabu, Honoré, Tignous and Wolinski, economist Bernard Maris and editors Elsa Cayat and Mustapha Ourrad. Two police officers also died.

The two gunmen were Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, French Muslim brothers of Algerian descent.