France: 'Charlie Hebdo' would have run the headline: ‘Satraps who you have escaped’

This drawing (representing Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan) was tweeted by television presenter Sedef Kabas on January 11.

By Thomas Cantaloube and Mathilde Mathieu

January 14, 2015 – French original published in Mediapart, January 11; English translation first posted Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- To govern is to choose. By accepting the participation of dictators, jailers of opponents and enemies of the freedom of the press from all corners of the planet at the January 11 demonstration in memory of the victims of the Paris [Charlie Hebdo] attacks, the François Hollande-Manuel Valls government has once more demonstrated its cowardice.

Viktor Orban (Hungary), Ali Bongo (Gabon), the Turkish prime minister, ministers from Russia, Algeria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates… This list resembles the back page of an issue of Charlie Hebdo: the satraps who you have escaped. Except that they were well and truly present, and what’s more in the “VIP square”, marching at the side of the French head of state and his counterparts.

As for certain other foreign personalities who are a little more “respectable”, such as Benjamin Netanyahou, [Jean-Claude] Junker [president of the European Commission] or the king of Jordan, their presence under the banner “Je suis Charlie” would have, in normal times, legitimately led to the cartoonists and writers at Charlie to vomit pronto …

A minister of the Valls government declared: “We could not take the risk of triggering, in one day, several diplomatic incidents in series.” Poor excuse. A polite refusal would have sufficed. Or something very diplomatic like: “You know, it will be complicated to organise your security, and then it is not sure that you would be totally welcome by the demonstrators. But come see us in several days …”

But no, Hollande and Valls, who became the de facto organisers of the day, have preferred to take all the credit. They preferred to play the great international leaders, capable of mobilising the attention of their colleagues and of the entire planet for a couple hours. The organisation for the defence of the freedom of the press, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), has a thousand reasons to be offended by this “disgraceful distortion”.

The French executive has done everything possible to obscure the message of sincere and dignified national and international emotion.

In the name of whose common values did Viktor Orban [prime minister of Hungary and the president of the national conservative ruling party Fidesz] march on Sunday? What could be found in common between the defenders of freedom of expression and members of governments (Egypt’s, for example) who throw activists into prison because they open their mouths? What could gather together people who say no to violence and leaders who have utilised violence in the preservation of their power?

It’s evident that the dead of Charlie Hebdo must be rolling in their graves, those who have never shied away from political confrontation and who hated bleating unanimity. If one wanted to deny the specifity of the violence of what took place this week in France by transforming it into a vast “Kumbaya” without political content, one couldn’t have done better.

By receiving within the same frame and with as much consideration, firefighters and pyromaniacs, Hollande demonstrated that he, yet again, has no political direction and no sense of what is just in such a moment for the nation.

‘The fight against terrorism’, the alpha and omega of the politics of Hollande

Or rather if, as the eternal national secretary of the Socialist Party [which he was], he plays the only card that he knows how to play: that of political preservation. To the question of the presence in Paris at the demonstration of such enemies of fundamental liberties, this is how the Élysée Palace responded: “Considering the global evil that terrorism represents, the whole world is welcome, all those who are ready to help us to combat this scourge. These terrorists are in full march. They have attacked freedom of the press, the police, and have committed anti-Semitic crimes. We are not in a position to allow ourselves to make distinctions between countries and stigmatisations.”

Reading this declaration, we understand: the fight against terrorism has become the alpha and omega of the governmental response. As if terrorism didn’t have roots and causes, financers and facilitators, in the alliances of the horrid exhibition demonstrated in Paris. “All those who are with us are welcome, the others are against us”, we could paraphrase. Does that remind you of anything? Of course it does… At the Place de la Republic, a handful of demonstrators held up the names of the Gabonese journalists who have been arrested arbitrarily in their country. During a demonstration organised by the opposition in December, prohibited by the government, a student was killed and 20 arrested, including several journalists. Several days later, an observer for France 24 (TV) was arrested. In September two weekly papers had announced the temporary halt to publication due to a hacking that they attributed to the government (speedily denied by the government).

On those days, Ali Bongo responded with an iron fist to the renewal of debate provoked by the book by Pierre Péan (New African Affairs), which the opposition took up, and which accused Bongo of having falsified his diplomas and his birth certificate.

In an interview on Radio France International, the son of Bongo (already five years in power, 42 for his father) justified the ban on gatherings of opponents in his country like this: “How would you like to give the right to demonstrate to those people who do not recognise the institutions of law?” And he let loose this spine-chilling sentence: “I don’t want to get rid of everyone.” Just some people.

Ahmet Davutoglu, prime minister of Turkey (ranked 154th on the RSF's World Press Freedom index)

President Tayyip Erdogan shouts it from the rooftops: “Nowhere in the world is the press as free as in Turkey. I am absolutely certain of this.” Thus he didn’t miss the opportunity to throw his support behind Charlie. His prime minister took part in the march even though 30 journalists have just been arrested in Turkey, of whom four have been committed, under the pretext that they were forming “a gang for making an attempt on the sovereignty of the State”. Among them is the editor in chief of one of the main daily papers of the country, Zaman, reputedly close to the Islamist movement Güllen, the main rival of president Erdogan. Suspected of so-called terrorist aims, these journalists risk life in prison.

In Istanbul, even a tweet can cost you a lot. Several days ago, a television presenter, Sedef Kabas, was taken into custody because of a message that criticised a magistrate for having buried the corruption scandal that had destabilised the Islamo-conservative power of Erdogan last winter. According to her judge, she was “presented like a target of those charged with the fight against terrorism”. Her apartment was searched, her computer placed under seal. The drawing (representing Erdogan) that she posted on January 11 on Twitter is at the top of this article.

In an interview in Paris Match, January 11, the writer Nedim Gürsel recalled: “Mr Erdogan doesn’t like caricaturists. Every time, he presses charges so that they are prosecuted.” Gürsel, herself charged for having exercised her freedom of expression (then acquitted), recalled this symptomatic episode: “Erdogan realised that he had (one day) taken the telephone off the wall to ask an owner of a network to suspend a live broadcast that did not suit him. And now he continues to do it.”

Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary (ranked 64th by RSF)

Voted in at the election last April, Viktor Orban affirms today without reserve his preference for a “non-liberal” democracy, as this convoluted but chilly statement demonstrates: “The theme for success today in political thought is to understand the systems that are not occidental, not liberal, not liberal democracies, perhaps not even democracies, and which bring nonetheless success to their nations…” In Hungary, he has put forward a series of reforms detrimental to freedoms of the press.

His law of 2011 on information, which has put the media under the thumb of a council close to the government, has brought him into a long arm wrestle with Brussels – forcing several concessions from him. The new laws threaten the media with fines if it does not produce “balanced information”. It then required the pressure of the European Union to freeze a project of a liberticidal internet tax, which was supposed to come into effect this autumn.

Freedom of expression is really not the strength of the prime minister. Hungary has also just been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for having violated the rights of several parliamentarians. Seven elected representatives had copped fines after having held up placards accusing the party in power of “lying, cheating and stealing”, or after having emptied a wheelbarrow of dirt under the nose of Viktor Orban.

Sheikh Abdallah bin Zayed Al-Nahyane, minister of foreign affaires for the United Arab Emirates (ranked 118th by RSF)

In the context of a hunt for the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, accused of wanting to overthrow the regime, the authorities of the Emirates did not hold back from carrying out arbitrary detentions of journalists. Egyptian Anas Fouda, editorial representative of the group MBC (on-line TV), was also detained for more than a month without charge. No lawyer, no visiting times with his family. Upon his release in August 2013, he was deported to Egypt that very evening.

During an enormous procedure in Abu Dhabi that summer (with 68 condemned for up to five years in prison for supposed links to the Muslim Brotherhood), Reporters Sans Frontières denounced the total media black-out. No foreign media, no human rights organisations were allowed to set foot there.

Abdallah II and Rania, royal couple of Jordan (ranked 141st by RSF)

After the “Arab Spring”, the Jordanian authorities reinforced their control over the media and the internet. In June 2013, some 300 sites were blocked in a stroke, then nine others a month later. Various anti-press freedom measures were adopted by royal decree in September 2012.

Jordan even aids other countries to gag their journalists. Last June, an Iraqi network based in Amman, critical of the prime minister, was closed after a raid triggered by a complaint from the Iraqi government, ending in the arrest of the entire team (14 Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian journalists, according to RSF).