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“The Other Charlies”: In Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Spotlight Grows on Press Freedom Attacks Worldwide

Web ExclusiveJanuary 13, 2015
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Two days after millions marched in France to honor the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack, Reporters Without Borders is urging the international community to protect press freedom across the globe. Lucie Morillon and Delphine Halgand of Reporters Without Borders (also known as Reporters Sans Frontières) talk about attacks on the press from Saudi Arabia to Israel to the United States.

Click to watch Part 1 of this interview.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As the victims of the Paris killings are laid to rest, the magazine Charlie Hebdo is preparing to publish its first post-attack issue Wednesday. The cover features the Prophet Muhammad holding a sign that reads, ”Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie,” with the headline, quote, “All is Forgiven.”

For more on the Paris attacks and press freedom, we are joined right now for part two of our conversation with two guests. Lucie Morillon is program director for Reporters Without Borders. She’s based in Paris, here for just a day. She arrived in the United States Monday after attending Sunday’s march. She was one of the first people to arrive at the site of the Charlie Hebdo attack shortly after it occurred. Also with us, Delphine Halgand, U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Lucie, can you talk about what you mean by “the other Charlies”?

LUCIE MORILLON: Yes. This attack, this deadly attack, was a shock. It was very traumatic for French journalists, for the French society. But Reporters Without Borders today wants to remind everybody that we need to defend Charlie Hebdo, but we also need to defend all the Charlies of the world, these journalists, cartoonists, bloggers who are tackling sensitive issues, who are covering dangerous topics, and who need our help. This is what Reporters Without Borders does. We support journalists and news providers around the world. And today the attention is focused on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, but we shall not forget all of the others who are doing exactly the same thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Delphine, you’re very critical of, for example, The New York Times for not publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. What if that is not their sensibility, they don’t agree, perhaps they feel that some will find them offensive?

DELPHINE HALGAND: So, you know, I’m not critical. They have their freedom, in a sense. At Reporters Without Borders, of course, we have called all media all around the world to publish the cartoon in the way to continue the fight that Charlie Hebdo was leading, to this fight for freedom of information. And we are so proud and happy that many medias all around the world have shown this solidarity by publishing the cartoons. And anyway, all the cartoons are now circulating so broadly on the web that the message is here. The message is clear that the freedom of information has won, and their information is circulating.

AMY GOODMAN: There are those that say there are certain caricatures that are accepted and certain ones that aren’t. For example, if you had African Americans during the time of lynching, the caricature of blacks, the anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews, newspapers would say, “No. Yes, a cartoonist can do that, but we are not going to publish it.” And for those who say the cartoons that many Muslims found objectionable, “We don’t want to publish them, though we support Charlie Hebdo. Of course we don’t want the cartoonists, the writers, to be killed”?

DELPHINE HALGAND: Yeah, you know, I think it’s the essence of cartoons to go where it hurts, where it’s touchy. What is not said by words can be felt by a draw. And I think, really, it’s really dear in the history of Europe, in the history of France, to be very provocative with the cartoons. And that’s what Charlie was doing. And that’s, again, what a lot of Charlies all around the world are doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Lucie, have you ever seen journalism talked about in this way in France?

LUCIE MORILLON: No, never. I mean, you had millions of people in the streets, marching, demanding freedom of expression, freedom of the press, saying, “Thank you, journalists,” “I am a journalist.” I have never heard that before. On the contrary, journalists don’t have a very good image in France. You have a lot of people criticizing. They would say that journalists are not as independent as they should be. They should be more critical of the political powers and so on. We still have a very free press in France. We have problems, like any country in the world. But the public perception is not always very positive. Today, I think there was really—there’s an awareness growing in the public on how freedom of the press, how the work of journalists, is essential to our society. There is a Burmese dissident, Win Tin, who once said that freedom of the press is a freedom that allows the very existence of other freedom. And I think today people are understanding this.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about who the other Charlies are.

LUCIE MORILLON: Sure. I mean, we are defending at Reporters Without Borders journalists who are, for example, covering corruption, crimes, organized crime in Mexico. We are helping journalists in Pakistan who are trying to question, you know, what the Taliban do, but also what’s happening when U.S. strikes in their countries. We are defending people in Somalia that are being tracked down by al-Shabab militia. These are important journalists, and they are doing a great job.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m thinking about the front lines of the politicians, the leaders of countries—


AMY GOODMAN: —that stood together, arm in arm. You were concerned about what they represented.

LUCIE MORILLON: Oh, absolutely. On one hand, it was great to see that much support from all around the world, to see heads of state coming with French officials to say—you know, to pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo. But when you look at the people who were represented, you see that you have a representative from Egypt, from Russia, from Turkey, countries that are quite known for cracking down on freedom of the press.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Egypt?

LUCIE MORILLON: Well, Egypt is actually today one of the biggest prisons for journalists worldwide. We have 16 journalists in jail in Egypt, actually for charges related to terrorism. We were having a debate earlier on what terrorism means. So this is used, again, by some of these regimes to crack down on people who are defending our freedom. And—

AMY GOODMAN: For example, the Al Jazeera journalists, three of them.

LUCIE MORILLON: Exactly. We have three Al Jazeera journalists in jail who have done nothing but just doing their jobs. We are asking for their release. And tomorrow, or in the coming days, when we will write to these heads of state or ministers who were at the Paris march, we will tell them, “Fine. You demonstrated. You wanted to give an image, a good image, on the international scene on this issue of freedom of expression. Now why don’t you just come back home and release the people that you are holding? Why don’t you just make sure that what you did in Paris was just not showing off and trying to take advantage of this?”

AMY GOODMAN: In Egypt, we’ve heard about the three Al Jazeera journalists, though most people in the United States perhaps have not even heard about, you know, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy. But what about the others? They are almost never talked about, Egyptian journalists in jail.


AMY GOODMAN: When they cover, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood, they are called terrorists, aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.

LUCIE MORILLON: Absolutely. There is a witch hunt in Egypt. There has been, for months, a witch hunt against journalists who are considered, whether it’s true or not, close to the Muslim Brotherhood and who have had a coverage critical of the government. So, clearly, in Egypt today, it’s very polarized, and every journalist who take a chance at criticizing the government may end up in jail for a very long time. And having today the three Al Jazeera journalists behind bars was a strong signal sent to all these Egyptian journalists: Be careful what you write, what you cover.

AMY GOODMAN: Delphine, what about Saudi Arabia? What’s happening now? In the midst of all this, the blogger who is being lashed a thousand times over a series of weeks, 50 lashes every Friday.

DELPHINE HALGAND: Mm-hmm. You know, it’s very interesting to highlight this issue right now, because Raif Badawi has been sentenced, as you say, to 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is Raif Badawi?

DELPHINE HALGAND: So, he is the Saudi blogger who had this website where he was just providing information on the situation in Saudi Arabia. And maybe he was providing too much independent information for the regime. And that’s why he was sentenced to this barbaric sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: Is he lashed in public?

DELPHINE HALGAND: Yes. And that will continue. You know, they decided to divide the 1,000 lashes in different sessions because they were afraid that he would be killed. So, that’s why we have—

AMY GOODMAN: If all—if he was lashed 1,000 times at once.

DELPHINE HALGAND: Yes. And, you know, I think it’s really important to highlight that, in a sense, he’s—the Muslim journalists are the first victims of blasphemer—blasphematory law, of this restriction on what we can talk about, what we cannot talk about. And, in a sense, he’s one other Charlie, if we want to put it that way. There’s blasphematory law right now in—

AMY GOODMAN: Blasphemy laws.

DELPHINE HALGAND: Blasphemy law.

AMY GOODMAN: But let me ask, on Raif—you’re the U.S. representative—U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders. So, are you putting pressure on the U.S. government, a very close ally of Saudi Arabia, around this issue? And what has been the U.S.’s response?

DELPHINE HALGAND: Of course, at Reporters Without Borders, our role is to push the allies of Saudi Arabia, like the U.S., to condemn this barbaric sentence. And, actually, the U.S. have condemned this sentence in pretty strong words, for once. And unfortunately, it didn’t help to save Raif last Friday, but at least it brought more attention to his case. And we hope that it will help to stop this barbaric sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve come to the United States, Lucie, just for a brief period, for a day, in the midst of everything that’s happening in France, to bring attention to Austin Tice. Explain who he is. The last U.S. journalist in Syria being held?

LUCIE MORILLON: Absolutely. Austin Tice is an American journalist. He was working for different newspapers—McClatchy, The Washington Post and others. He’s been missing in Syria since August 2012. He disappeared in a suburb of Damascus and is still missing. His parents, his family are waiting for him to be back home. We need to help them. We need to do everything we can. Austin is one of these courageous journalists who, despite the risk, despite all the pressure on journalists, decided to continue to cover Syria, because it was important to tell the true story, to help not fall into propaganda and manipulation, as some groups in Syria are trying to do. So, we think it’s very important.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is holding him?

LUCIE MORILLON: Well, we believe—it’s complicated. I mean, maybe Delphine wants to—

DELPHINE HALGAND: What we know is he’s still alive. He’s not held by ISIS. The Syrian government denies having him. So, the option are still open, and the families keep their eyes open to what could happen. But—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe he’s being held by the Syrian government?

DELPHINE HALGAND: It’s a possibility. And that’s one that we are working on with the families. But as I say, there’s no information confirmed.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is the U.S. government doing?

DELPHINE HALGAND: So, that’s what we would like to know and what the families would like to know. And that’s why we are launching this public awareness campaign. It’s been more than two years that Austin is missing. After all the emotion, after the terrific, barbaric beheading of Jim Foley, we know that there’s still an American journalist alive in Syria. So we have to do everything possible to bring him back home.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it an issue of ransom?

DELPHINE HALGAND: It is not. It is not a ransom issue. He’s not held by ISIS. There has been no ransom request. It’s clearly a political issue.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, that image of the world leaders—I mean, President Obama wasn’t there. Now the White House is apologizing that they didn’t send a top official. It’s unclear why Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in Paris at the time, we now understand, doing a live interview with Meet the Press, was not a part of this line. He could have been the U.S. representative. He’s certainly a high-level official. But it looks like the White House just simply miscalculated. It didn’t even look like the president or the vice president was doing anything in particular on Sunday. Are you offended by this?

LUCIE MORILLON: Well, I think it’s more of an issue here in the U.S. than in France. I mean, there’s so much going on, I think it’s—you know, I mean, there are more important things to deal with. And what is important is to see what America is going to do with the French authorities in the coming weeks and months. We know that the American people have been very supportive, and that’s what really counts. I think we are past, you know, this sort of polemic. We are looking at what’s going to be next and how can we fight against those sort of attacks.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, when you talk about your looking also at what U.S. actions are, this is something that Reporters Without Borders has taken on, Delphine, how the U.S. treats its own journalists. Where does the U.S. fall? How does it rate? A well-known fact: the Obama administration prosecuting more whistleblowers and journalists than all administrations combined.

DELPHINE HALGAND: Yeah, exactly. So, at Reporters Without Borders, we rank countries according to their level of press freedom. And in the last year World Press Freedom Index, the U.S. were ranked at the 46th position.

AMY GOODMAN: In the world press index—


AMY GOODMAN: Forty-six.

DELPHINE HALGAND: Forty-sixth position out of 180 countries. There are—

AMY GOODMAN: Who is—who is right around the U.S.? Who beat the United States?

DELPHINE HALGAND: So, at the top of our index, you can find North European countries, like Finland, Denmark. And at the bottom, you can find, of course, countries like Eritrea, North Korea, Iran, Syria. And the reason of the position of the U.S., which is still a strong democracy, is that the Obama administration has launched a war against whistleblowers. As you said, since Obama took office in 2009, eight alleged whistleblowers have been prosecuted, which is the highest number under any administration combined. And why it is concerning, it’s because if there’s no real independent investigative journalists in the U.S., then you just have to stick to the official version of the fact. And if we would stay to the official version of the fact, I think we would not know a lot of what happened in the U.S. or all around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that image of the world leaders in a line locking arms, you had President Hollande in the middle, and on one side of him a few leaders down, you had Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and on the other side of him a few leaders down, you had the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. According to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, looking at the Israeli offensive in Gaza this past summer, where over 2,100 Palestinians were killed, it included 16 journalists, one media worker, one media activist. Can you talk about the threat that Palestinian journalists face?

LUCIE MORILLON: Yeah, I mean, Palestinian journalists are clearly under a lot of pression from the Palestinian authorities and also from Israeli forces. I mean, during what happened a few months ago, some of the journalists were killed. We don’t have that high a figure. We have listed several journalists killed while exercising their activities of information. It’s difficult sometimes to make a difference between a journalist who were there as a journalist, someone who was killed accidentally and someone who was also involved in political activity. So, we are trying to be very careful in our list of journalists killed. But again, yeah, it’s extremely difficult, and it’s a very sensitive part of the world. So the fact that journalists in the Palestinian territories are stuck between their own authorities, who are trying to pressure them to cover one way or another, plus the Israeli actions, it makes it extremely difficult. And we can just, you know, look at them and wonder how some of them can continue to do it, and also look at how important it is for these journalists to continue to do their jobs and to try to avoid falling into too much polarization and resist any sort of manipulation. That’s one of the risks you have.

AMY GOODMAN: And I think of Mazen Dana. He was a great Reuters cameraman who was killed outside by U.S. military forces outside Abu Ghraib.


AMY GOODMAN: And famously, on his walkie-talkie, an Israeli—a U.S. soldier said, “We’ve engaged a cameraman.” Or Tareq Ayyoub, who worked for Al Jazeera—

LUCIE MORILLON: Mm-hmm, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: —and on April 8th, 2003, right before Baghdad fell, he was on the roof of Al Jazeera, and he was strafed by U.S. forces.

LUCIE MORILLON: No, absolutely. It’s important that—you know, when we talk about fighting against impunity of crimes against journalists, it’s important that we don’t just look at the countries of “bad guys,” the usual suspects, but that we also look at our democracies and the problems that they might have and the people that they might have targeted, you know, in specific situations. So, we want—we have been asking for years for justice for these journalists who have been killed by U.S. forces.

AMY GOODMAN: I see on your list, the world press index, Israel ranks 96th on the list?

DELPHINE HALGAND: Yes. Maybe you want to talk about the situation in Israel.

LUCIE MORILLON: Yeah, sure. I mean, in this ranking, you have the situation in Israel where you have quite a good, I mean, level of freedom of the press. I mean, some newspapers, like Ha’aretz, are able to tackle really sensitive topics and to be very critical. But you still have this ban imposed by the military, the military censorship, the prior censorship, that is a real problem for Israeli journalists. I don’t know if you remember, but there was a case of a whistleblower who was being prosecuted, and the Israeli media had a ban. They were not able to discuss it. So they would not discuss it. They would just say, “There’s something we cannot”—

AMY GOODMAN: Was this Mordechai Vanunu—


AMY GOODMAN: —the nuclear whistleblower?

LUCIE MORILLON: No, there was another one, a young lady who was—she was a journalist, and she was doing her military service, and she gave out some documentation about execution, extrajudiciary execution of Palestinian leaders. And, you know, so the media couldn’t talk about it, so they would just say—live, they would say, “There’s something we cannot tell you, but you should google. You should google it, or you should look online.” So, there’s this military censorship. There is also, of course, the military intervention, where journalists have been killed or, you know, arrested. A lot of Palestinian journalists are also being held under administrative reasons, and we don’t have access to the cases. So that’s a big problem, on one hand, to see a country like Israel, where you have freedom of the press, but as soon as it has to deal with Palestine, it’s a different story.

AMY GOODMAN: Right, a certain population enjoys freedom of the press.

LUCIE MORILLON: Yeah, exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: And the other population, the Palestinians, don’t. I wanted to end where we began part one of our conversation, and that’s on, on Wednesday, when you came to the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Quite something Reporters Without Borders was there before the president of France, before many of the security. So, can you just end by describing to us that scene once again.


AMY GOODMAN: You were in your offices having a meeting.

LUCIE MORILLON: Yeah, we were at Reporters Without Borders’ offices. We are in the center of Paris, not far from the Agence France-Presse, AFP. We were having this meeting, important matters. Then a colleague came to the office and was waving at us, like something was important and he wanted to interrupt us. And I looked at him. I gave him a stern look, like, “This better be important.” And indeed it was, because he came in, he said, “There’s something huge. It looks like there had been, you know, shots fired at Charlie Hebdo’s, and there might be people dead.” So, it was just complete, complete shock, completely surreal.

We just took our bags, notebooks, phones, and we ran to Charlie Hebdo's offices. It's five Métro stations from our office, so we came in very early. There were almost nobody except the neighbors, who were gathered in the restricted areas. Then the minister of interior, the mayor of Paris and a bunch of other officials came in. One of the officials recognized me and the secretary general, Christophe Deloire, and we were able to get in the restricted area with the officials. We ended up in front of the office. We didn’t get in, as it was a crime scene, but we could still see bullets on the floor, people crying. One guy got out of the office, and he—at this point, President Hollande had arrived, and he fell into his arms. He was crying, and he was saying, “Charb is dead,” ”Charb est mort.” He’s the editor of the magazine, who had been threatened for a long time.

AMY GOODMAN: And Charb had security with him—


AMY GOODMAN: —because he’s been threatened for so long.

LUCIE MORILLON: Yeah, absolutely. He had been threatened for years. He had specific police protection. And he, the guy who was the policeman who was assigned to his protection, lost his life trying to defend him.

AMY GOODMAN: And that policeman’s wife is an editor at another newspaper.

LUCIE MORILLON: Yes, absolutely. She’s an editor of a newspaper in Normandy. And I’m pretty sure she’s—I mean, it should be terrible, too, for her, I mean, to see that her husband lost his life to protect journalism.

AMY GOODMAN: And we know about the number dead, but there have been many who were—a number who had been critically wounded.

LUCIE MORILLON: Sure. We have 12 people dead so far, and others are critically wounded. So, you know, this number might change. We don’t know yet. But clearly, it was—the ambulances were continuing to arrive after we were on the scene to get out the people who were wounded. And, of course, the others who—the very few who were not killed are completely traumatized.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, they are putting out Charlie Hebdo.

LUCIE MORILLON: Yeah. That’s interesting, because when this all happened, we would—I mean, there is very few people remaining from Charlie Hebdo. It’s like an entire newsroom was disseminated. So, today, there are very few of them. They didn’t know right away if they would be able to do it. But they decided to put out this, this week, issue, and they did it on their own. So, it’s just so courageous.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, all the newspapers offered to help them. They’re working in _Libération_’s newsroom.

LUCIE MORILLON: Exactly, yeah. The French daily, Libération, is hosting them, so they were able to prepare their next issue over there, because they don’t have like—they don’t have access to the computers, as the layout and everything is—you know, because there’s an investigation, so they don’t have access to this. So they had to start from scratch. And it’s impressing.

AMY GOODMAN: But they didn’t want the help of other newspapers.

LUCIE MORILLON: Exactly. A lot of cartoonists in France, but also abroad, called to offer their help. For this edition, they really wanted to be, you know, on their own. And they didn’t want to do a tribute as really just a tribute—

AMY GOODMAN: A tribute issue.

LUCIE MORILLON: —special issue. They wanted to do something that is, you know, the next issue of Charlie Hebdo. The idea is to say Charlie is not dead, it’s going to continue. It’s clearly a big challenge, and we are today funneling the nation for Charlie in France and internationally, because they need money. They were really in a dire economic situation before all this happened. And now, with most of the staff gone, it’s going to be very, very difficult to continue. But we really hope they can continue. This is the best tribute they can give to those who were killed.

AMY GOODMAN: And what this means for journalism worldwide right now, as you, Lucie, head back to Paris?

LUCIE MORILLON: Well, it’s—I mean, it’s an intense shock, but it shall not be the start of more self-censorship on very sensitive issues, except—including religion. Journalists have to continue to tackle these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Reporters Without Borders, why was it started, and what does it mean?

LUCIE MORILLON: Well, Reporters Without Borders started almost 30 years ago. It was started by a bunch of journalists who wanted to cover forgotten places, forgotten issues. And eventually they realized how it was important, instead of having, you know, a bunch of foreigners coming in countries to cover issues, to make sure that the local journalists in those countries would be able to cover their story. They know the ground better than we do. And today, our work is to support journalists all around the world. And now, after what happened at Charlie, we are receiving messages of support from all around the world. Like even Mexican journalists who are under death threats because they cover organized crimes are sending us messages, telling, you know, “We are thinking of you. We support you.” And it’s extremely moving to have all this support coming in.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you suffering from shock right now, having been at the crime scene so quickly, even before the leading politicians, seeing your colleagues there wounded?

LUCIE MORILLON: Well, I mean, it’s clearly traumatic. I mean, we have police protection, like all the French media outlets. I still feel like it’s surreal. I mean, we are used to cover this kind of events in Syria, in Somalia, in Iraq. And even—even though—we looked at the past years and the history of attacks on the media, and it’s very rare to have that many people killed while, you know, assaulting a media. Usually journalists are killed on an individual basis, because they cover stories that, you know, pose a problem to some powerful people. So, attacking a media outlet and killing that many people is very, very rare. The last time was in the Philippines, where almost 30 journalists were killed by a local politician. And other than that, we have, you know, a few examples here and there. But I guess even—even if we are very shocked, we have had so much, so much support from the entire world, from American friends, from the—I mean, it’s amazing to see that today the issue of freedom of the press again is recognized as something essential for our democratic values, a cornerstone of democracy. And it’s going to help us in our everyday work, if we can use this to pay tribute to all the Charlies of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much both for joining us. I know you have to head back very quickly to Paris. Lucie Morillon is Reporters Without Borders’ program director, usually based in Paris. Delphine Halgand is the U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders, based in Washington, D.C. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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StoryJan 13, 2015Reporters Without Borders on Witnessing the Paris Massacre Aftermath & Press Freedom After Charlie
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