Marching in Paris, yet blocking freedom of speech at home

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is welcomed by French President François Hollande ahead of a march against extremism in Paris on Janaury 11, 2015
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is welcomed by French President François Hollande ahead of a march against extremism in Paris on Janaury 11, 2015 AFP

More than 50 leaders from around the world took part in a massive march in Paris Sunday in a show of unity against extremism and to honour the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre – seen as an attack on free speech and freedom of the press.


But Reporters Without Borders has highlighted how many of the heads of state and high-ranking ministers present on Sunday represent countries that themselves have highly questionable records when it comes to free speech, from the suppression of demonstrations to the imprisonment of journalists.

"We have to show solidarity with ‘Charlie’ but without forgetting all the ‘Charlies’ around the world,” said Christophe Deloire, the Reporters Without Borders’ secretary general.

“It would be intolerable if representatives of states that silence journalists in their countries take advantage of the day’s emotion in order to improve their international image.”

Below are some of the countries officially represented at the march that rank particularly low on Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index (PFI), which places Finland at the top and Eritrea and North Korea at the bottom, ranked respectively 179th and 180th. France found itself at 39 on the on the 2014 list of 180 countries.

• Algeria – PFI ranking: 121 out of 180. Represented by Ramtane Lamara, Foreign Minister
The presence of Foreign Affairs Minister Ramtane Lamara has made headlines in Algeria. The website Algérie-Focus noted that: “Marches and public protests are banned in Algeria, but Algerian ministers have the right to march in the streets of … Paris!” In April 2014, demonstrations in April against a fourth term for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika were suppressed by authorities.

• Russia – PFI Ranking: 148. Represented by Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister
Numerous Russian journalists have been imprisoned, often in Siberia, and two NGOs that support the media have been added to an official list of “foreign agents”, a term used to stigmatise NGOs that receive foreign funding and are suspected of “political activity”. Alexei Navalny, a blogger who has regualraly criticised President Vladimir Putin, has also been the target of harassment by the authorities and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in January on embezzlement charges.

• Turkey – PFI Ranking: 148. Represented by Ahmet Davutoglu, Prime Minister
Nearly 70 journalists are currently being prosecuted in Turkey for referring to corruption allegations against these close associates of the former prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now the country’s president. Turkey has also imprisoned newspaper editors for their alleged links with Fethullah Gülen, an influential Muslim cleric currently the subject of an arrest warrant after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Turkish government.

• Egypt – PFI ranking: 156. Represented by Sameh Shukri, Foreign Minister
Sixteen journalists, including three from Al-Jazeera, are currently in Egyptian prisons. The Al-Jazeera journalists have been held captive since December 2013 for “spreading false news” and “membership of a terrorist organisation”. They had been serving sentences of between seven and ten years when the Egyptian Supreme Court ordered a retrial earlier this month.

• Gabon – PFI ranking: 98. Represented by Ali Bongo, President
Gabonese journalist Jonas Moulenda has received several death threats after reporting on the taboo subject of ritual killings in the country, forcing him to flee to Cameroon at the beginning of January.

• Hungary – PFI ranking: 64. Represented Viktor Orban, Prime Minister
In June last year Hungary imposed a tax on media advertising revenue, generating more than 65 million euros a year for the government. The tax has hit main independent TV channel RTL Klub particularaly hard, while TV2, a channel regarded as close to Orban’s Fidesz party, has been granted special dispensation from the new tax. In October, meanwhile, Hungarian citizens took to the streets to oppose a new tax on Internet usage.


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