Wednesday, January 7th 2015. A baleful day for freedom of expression. This morning, Charlie Hebdo was beheaded.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Universal Declaration for Human Rights, 1948.
Half a century later, freedom of expression still lives under constant threat and daily limitations. 720 journalists killed in the world since 2005. 66 journalists killed in 2014, 178 detained, 119 abducted. 12 persons fell today. All in the name of one ideal, a right, a liberty: expression.
When will cease this massacre? When will ignorance cease to break feathers? Because this is what it is about: ignorance. The ones who never felt the power of words between their hands and on their tongue are frightened by it and rebel with the tip of their Kalashnikovs. Sad fools.
This morning, around 11:20, two men wearing a balaclava penetrate Charlie Hebdo’s offices in the 11th district of Paris. Each holds a Kalashnikov when they get to the 10, Nicolas-Appert Street. When entering the building they ask their way to the offices of the weekly satirical journal to two service agents, they shoot one of them. Frédéric Boisseaux, 42, is the first victim.
They reach the second floor and erupt in the newsroom where the editors’ conference was taking place. The whole team was there. They open fire, the massacre begins. Cartoonists Cabu, Charb, Wollinsky, Tignous; the police officer in charge of their security, Franck Brinsolaro; the economist Bernard Maris; journalists Honoré, Mustapha Ourad; a guest of the editors’, Michel Renaud; a second police officer in charge of their security, Ahmed Merabet; Elsa Cayat, columnist and psychoanalyst.
In total, 12 persons fell. 12 libertarians. 12 symbols of freedom of expression and its protection.
The criminals ran away after cowardly shooting at close range police officer Ahmed Merabet at close range, while he was on the ground in the street. They yelled ‘we avenged Prophet Mohamed, we killed Charlie Hebdo’.
Great men fell today. Yes, they were controversial. Yes, they flirted with the limits of freedom of expression at each publication. And this is where there greatness resided. Great libertarians. Men that fought daily to push back censorship and made sure it never took one more step. Free expression, and always at the limits of legality.
Tight rope walkers of the pen, whom each drawing thrilled us with anguish at the thought of falling into the forbidden. Thank you for the thrills; it is thanks to them that we know freedom of expression is very much alive. It is not frozen, it frees itself each day from the lead that is riddled in its wings.
Tunisia is also moved by this tragedy. Tunisia still echoes her own tragedies that know freedom of expression. The current situation of bloggers and journalists prosecuted for criticizing, for talking, for expressing. Tunisia will never forget all those pens broken in the cells of the old regime. Nor the ones that resist today. Tunisia can claim out loud “we are Charlie Hebdo”, for we have suffered and we still suffer from censorship and its violence. Let us never forget that the return of Charlie Hebdo in the Tunisian newsstands marked the return of freedom in Tunisia.
It is in the name of this freedom that twelve souls fell this day. It is in the name of this freedom that men and women around the world give their lives every day. It is in the name of this freedom that we all have a duty. Talk. Talk. Talk loud and clear! and never be quiet again.
Charlie Hebdo, like a phoenix reveals itself through the pen of hundreds of journalists and expresses itself through the pencil of hundreds of cartoonists around the world.
Charlie Hebdo is dead, long live Charlie Hebdo.
 Reporters Without Borders, 2014 Round-up of abuses against journalists
I am writing because I can. I can put down letters, that will form words and eventually sentences – hoping they make sense – because here I am sitting at a café, in a free country. A country where you bring up any topic you like. You can talk about flowers and sunshine. You can write poems about love or spleen. You can talk about sex and religion. You can take apart politics and politicians, praise them if you wish. The only threat, on this comfortable couch, would be receiving angry comments, perhaps insults. As long as I do not harm anyone’s life or freedom with my words, I will live through it. My voice is unchained and can confront all minds.
This is not the case everywhere. I grew up in a country where speaking was dangerous. People censored their very thoughts. Friends and families didn’t dare to whisper certain topics. Politics. Relatives had to live in exile for speaking their mind.
In 2010, Reporter Sans Frontière was ranking Tunisia 164 out of 178, just a few ranks above Cuba (166), China (171) and North Korea (177). This year’s report shows a little improvement – 133 – as an achievement of the so called Arab Spring. The situation in Tunisia today is indeed way better than what it was three years ago. The media scene changed drastically, new television channels, new programs, new printed press and information websites. Political debates, caricatures, satirists… But more important, the Tunisian people is now speaking. The joke right after the 2010-2011 revolution was that Tunisia had gone from 10 million football coaches to 10 million political analysts. You will hear no one telling you that you are being too loud on a sensitive topics. The more sensitive the subject is, the louder you should get.
Of course, there is still work to do. A lot. Artists are still victims of the former regime system. Last year, Weld El 15, a Tunisian rapper, had to bear the consequences of his words in a song denouncing police abuses. He was first sentenced to two years of imprisonment, before being released on appeal and after months of detention and media coverage of the story, as well as a strong support from fellow artists. But this is also proof of change: three years ago, no one would have heard of this story. Perhpas rumors. But no media would have covered the story, and no public personality would have stood up, and no one would have made a social media campaign to support him. Or if they did, they would have been quiet fast.
In 2012, Nabil Karoui, owner of Nessma TV, was being prosecuted after screening the movie Persepolis for ‘violating sacred values’ and ‘disturbing the public order’ because of a scene in the film depicting a representation of God. At the end of the trial he was sentence to a 2400TND fine (about 1100€).
The same year, three journalists were arrested for a scandalous cover on the newspaper Ettounsyia, a reproduction of the GQ Germany cover with a picture of Tunisian football player Sami Khedira embracing his naked wife.
Nowadays, journalists in Tunisia can talk politics. But religion and mores are still sensitive, directly mirroring the situation in the Tunisian society.
Countries like Tunisia need a new generation of professional journalists. Now that people can speak, write, debate, they need the tools for it. Your voice will go nowhere if your tong is twisted. Hopefully, Tunisia still benefits from highly educated individuals with good entrepreneurial skills, and a strong civil society commitment, creating business that profits the community. New internet media are growing. Websites such as http://www.nawaat.org or http://www.inkyfada.com are doing an interesting work on journalism, both in their publications as well as in training new generations and offering employment opportunities.
Security is another terrible concern for the free speakers. Two Tunisian journalists, Sofiene Chourabi and Nader Ktari disappeared the 8th of September in the east of Libya. Today it has been 2 months and 10 days. Let’s not forget them. Their names add up to the long list of detained/disappeared/taken hostage journalists around the world.
As of 2014 in the world: 58 journalists killed, 21 netizens and citizens journalists killed, 177 journalists imprisoned, 174 netizens imprisoned (Reporters without Border).