Last weekend’s shooting attack on a Copenhagen café meeting in support of Charlie Hebdo is yet another sign of the determination of radical groups in their offensive against free speech. The media must respond by continuing to exercise their freedom of information.
After the 7 January attack in Paris, the 14 February twin attacks in Copenhagen and the many displays of violence in response to the “Je suis Charlie” movement, Reporters Without Borders insists on the need not to give ground on the right to free speech. All journalists, both professional and non-professional, must continue their work of providing news and information. Restricting their freedom of expression will not guarantee them better protection. “Today we are facing two threats,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The first is the threat to freedom of expression, the threat of imposed restrictions and self-censorship. The second is the physical threat to the safety and lives of journalists and cartoonists. We must fight a battle on both fronts without letting one battle harm the other.” Ever since the controversy over Jylland Posten’s Mohammed cartoons in 2005, several cartoonists have lived under a constant threat from radical Islamist groups that accuse them of blasphemy. But freedom of expression is also targeted by governments that argue that some people abuse this freedom to make fun of religions and thereby stir up anger. Reporters Without Borders is strongly opposed to such political use of the defence of religion. “We live in a terrifying era in which enraged madmen may turn up at your doorstep and kill you because they regard you as guilty of blasphemy, a terrifying era in which cartoonists have to go around with a police escort,” Deloire said. “Police prevention and raids will not suffice. We must wage an ideological battle against those who condone free speech violations. Solidarity is now needed among European countries and all democracies not only to combat extremist groups but also to be firm with governments that propagate extremist ideologies that regard blasphemy as a crime.” Some governments now want tougher laws and changes to international law in order protect religious systems, although blasphemy charges are already used to silence all criticism in certain countries. This is the issue that Reporters Without Borders will raise at an event at the UN Human Rights Council on 10 March on the subject of “Freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”