Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Nations urged to protect journalists against religious intolerance - Reporters Without Borders, UN rapporteurs speak out on anniversary of Charlie Hebdo attack

Published:Friday | January 17, 2020 | 12:27 AM
Jean Paul Bierlein reads the new Charlie Hebdo outside a newsstand in Nice, southeastern France,on January 14, 2015. In an emotional act of defiance, Charlie Hebdo resurrected its irreverent and often provocative newspaper, featuring a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad on the cover that drew immediate criticism and threats of more violence. The black letters on the front page reads: ‘All is forgiven’.

Last week, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the attack on the Paris headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people including eight members of its staff, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and two United Nations special rapporteurs appealed to governments and international organisations to protect journalists against religious intolerance.

The joint appeal was made during a press conference in Paris by Christophe Deloire, RSF’s secretary general; Ahmed Shaheed, special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and David Kaye, special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, who spoke by video-link from California. Richard Malka, Charlie Hebdo’s lawyer, and Elizabeth O’Casey, Humanists International’s advocacy director, attended the press conference.

Deloire, Shaheed and Kaye condemned the increase in religious intolerance and hate speech in general, which is responsible for institutional violations of journalists’ rights and physical threats against them. And they stressed the close link between freedom of religion or belief on the one hand, and freedom of opinion and expression on the other, in the Rabat Plan of Action and in the work of the UN Human Rights Committee.

Above all, they called for issues related to religious intolerance to be included in prescriptive initiatives and international actions on protecting journalists. This means that UN member states should decriminalise ‘blasphemy’ in line with the UN Human Rights Committee’s comments, the Rabat plan of action and UN General Assembly Resolution 16/18 of March 2011, that these issues should be included in the next UN resolutions on protecting journalists, and that a particular focus should be placed on these issues in the Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres launched in June 2019.

“The lessons of the attack on Charlie Hebdo have not been learned,” they said, speaking five years after the attack on January 7, 2015.

“We remind heads of state and government – including those who marched against terrorism and for free speech through the streets of Paris on January 11, 2015 – of the importance of not only protecting journalists and cartoonists, but also protecting their right to criticise systems of thought.”

Deloire said: “UN resolutions on protecting journalists, whether adopted by the Security Council, General Assembly or Human Rights Council, have not once mentioned the issue of the danger that religious intolerance poses to journalists. Whether by oversight or deliberate omission, this failure to refer to one of the gravest threats to journalism must be rectified in order to stimulate international mobilisation.”

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