On this 11th of January was the march in Paris in remembrance of the terrorist attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The demonstration intended to not only show sympathy with the family and friends of the victims, but to also underline to principle of freedom of speech. Bearing that in mind, we have to ask the question if some political figures that showed up were aware of the incredible irony of their presence or the announcement of their presence.
Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein, King of Jordan
Jordan has huge restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In 2011, the country outlawed reporting on corruption or a news coverage that could be judged to impact someone’s dignity, meaning political figures. Since 1998, insulting the government or religion can get you a fine up to $40,000. In the World Freedom Report 2014, Human Right Watch writes:
“Jordanian law criminalizes speech deemed critical of the king, government officials, and institutions, as well as Islam and speech considered defamatory of others.“
Jordan has failed to change the penal code in order to make it constitutional.
Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign minister
After all that is known of Russia, especially after the attention the country got during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sotchi, there shouldn’t be much to say about the presence of Sergey Lavrov, nor about the condolences by the president Vladimir Putin. Freedom House gives Russia a press freedom score of 81 (0 being the best and 100 being the worst score). Constitutionally we are talking about a free speech situation, but Freedom House adds:
“Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, officials have used the country’s politicized and corrupt court system to harass the few remaining independent journalists who dare to criticize widespread abuses by the authorities. The constitution and a 2009 law provide for freedom of information, but accessing information related to government bodies, the judiciary, or via government websites is extremely difficult in practice.”
Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkish Prime minister
The vague Turkish laws upholding freedom of speech and freedom of the press leave a lot of interpretative power to the judicial system. Article 216 of the penal code, which bans “inflaming hatred and hostility among peoples” and carries a prison term of six months to three years, continues to be used against journalists and other commentators. During the Gezi park protests in 2013, many media outlets were pressured into firing journalists for their critical position on the Turkish government. (Source)
Irakli Garibachvili, Georgian Prime Minister
In 2014, Georgia was ranked 84th on freedom of the press on the World Press Freedom Index. Although he constitution guarantees a free press, the Georgian government delays information and polarises the media landscape by effectively oversubsidising state run broadcasters. In previous years journalists have experienced police violence and confiscation of equipment.
Sameh Choukry, Egyptian Foreign minister
Since the Egyptian revolution of 2011, freedom of the press has not made a substantial advancement in the country. The military coup in 2013 changed the situation for the worse: the government openly demands that not criticism should be expressed in news reports and that newspaper outlets pledge loyalty to the government and the military, rejected by many journalists in November 2014. In July last year, three journalists for Al-Jazeera English were imprisoned, supposedly for ‘aiding terrorists’. (Source)
Faure Gnassingbé, President of Togo
Togo rejoins the numerous countries where freedom of the press only exists on paper. Journalists can face up to $10,000 for ‘libel’ towards the government. Committing ‘serious errors’ consisting in a ‘danger for national security’ can face confiscation of press cards and the media outlet can be suspended. Government allied news broadcasters are given advantages in attribution of frequency licences and many journalists engage in self-censorship in fear of police violence. (Source)
Kalzeube Payimi Deubet, Prime minister of Chad
Chad handles the press quite like Russia. The press agency Chad Press Agency is run and owned by the state and the only existing agency. The Chadian state also monopolised TV broadcasting and internet infrastructure. Critical news coverage is censored, media outlets and journalists are often fired or fined for ‘irresponsible coverage’. (Source)
Ali Bongo, President of Gabon
In 2014 Gabon rated 98th in the Press Freedom Index. There are only two daily newspapers, one closely affiliated with the government and one owned by the government. All other weekly newspapers can only publish weekly due to financial constraints, and rarely issue criticism in fear of violence. The access to information is very complicated, government agencies are known to publish almost no useful information. In 2013 the government issued a six month publication suspension for the satirical La Griffe newspaper, for “indulging in indecency and vulgarity in most of its publications.” (Source) 
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Foreign minister of the United Arabic Emirates
Even after the irony of the presence of the president of Gabon whose government banned a satirical newspaper from publishing just two years ago, this is by far the most perverse presence. The UAE rank 118th in the Press Freedom Index. The country prohibts criticism of government and religion, defemation and basically anything that damages the countries reputation (so yes this sentence alone could get me in jail over there). The internet is heavily censored, as it needs to conform to governmental and religious norms and most media outlets are government owned. (Source) (Ifex global network)
Ramtane Lamamra, Algerian Foreign minister
Ramtane Lamamra, probably still smiling that his country managed to beat down any revolutionary tendency during the Arab spring, cannot be proud of his government’s performance in terms of press freedom. In 2014 Algeria ranked 121th. Between 1992 and 2011 press freedom was technically suspended as the country was in a ‘state emergency’. Articles and cartoons that offend the government, the president, the justice department or the military is prohibited since 2001. Websites ‘contrary to public decency’ can be blocked. (Source)
Viktor Orbán, Hungarian Prime minister
Hungary has over the last year openly declared a war on freedom of the press. Orbán openly declared that he wants Hungary to be an ‘illiberal state’, saying that he would prefer to be more like Russia or Turkey. In July 2014, the former Vice-president of the European Commission Nelie Kroes wrote in a blogpost of the Commission’s webpage:
“A new media law introduced in 2010 put huge powers over the Hungary media into a body subject to political interference: breaching the Hungarian constitution and EU law and jeopardising fundamental rights. Later on, opposition radio station Klubrádió lost its licence; they eventually got it back, after a complex and costly fight, but the episode revealed(in the words of the European Parliament) “biased and opaque tendering practices”.
Salaheddine Mezouar, Foreign minister of Morocco
Salaheddine Mezouar said that he would only attend the march if there were no caricatures of Mohammed around. One may very well stop there, since it doesn’t get any more ironic.
There are some other factors that need to be mentioned as a side note: The Nigerian president Mahamadou Issoufou was present: Although the executive branch is not friendly in general towards media outlets, violation of freedom of the press need to generally be blamed on religious extremist groups, like Boko Haram. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime minister of Israel, was there, whose country is known for banning movies that were offensive to either Jews or Christians. There were also representatives for Bosnia&Herzogovina, Kosovo or Albania, countries that still have trouble establishing freedom of the press. It should also be mentioned that countries as Ukraine or Tunisia are considerably improving their situation of freedom of speech at the moment.
Just a last question: Did someone see Bashar-al Assad?
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