People from around the world gathered in Paris to show solidarity for the city after a massacre at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo left twelve people dead. Seen as a direct attack on the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression, millions around the globe have condemned the attack, as have the leaders of several countries.
However, some of these leaders have raised eyebrows at what has become a situation rank with hypocrisy.
Reporters Without Borders (RWB), a non-profit organization dedicated to monitoring attacks on freedom of speech worldwide and assisting war correspondents, as well as persecuted reporters and their families, have condemned the appearances of leaders from countries such as Egypt, Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. These countries, along with others who condemned the attack, such as Saudi Arabia, have a history of suppressing journalists in their countries. They have been known to silence and jail journalists in an effort to curtail free speech. Egypt, for example, sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists to seven to 10 years in jail on terrorism charges.
According to an article written on the Washington Post’s website on the same day as the march in Paris, human rights groups have claimed that free speech is severely limited in the United Arab Emirates with over 100 activists and government critics detained there since 2011.
Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of the attacks especially sparked controversy after a video of Saudi Arabian liberal blogger Raif Badawi’s floggings surfaced online just two days after the attack at Hebdo, according to the Guardian. Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years of prison for starting a blog that was used to debate basic beliefs in Saudi Arabia. United States officials, as well as human rights groups and other foreign officials, have warned against the punishment along with other foreign officials.
After a series of tests done by a medical committee, Badawi’s punishments have been postponed. Human rights watch group Amnesty International has questioned this act of violence against Badawi, along with reasons why the Saudi Arabian government has taken part in such a cruel practice.
“Easier said than done,” is extremely applicable in this case of human rights being infringed upon. While foreign leaders have voiced outrage and concern over the attack at Hebdo, it is clear that many of them are guilty of suppressing free speech in the same way those who attacked the magazine attempted. This begs the thought of whether or not the sympathy of these leaders is actually heartfelt. If they truly condemn the attacks, they all should practice what they preach.
While condemning the Hebdo attack, foreign leaders known for suppressing free speech should be working to exercise that which they have preached in their own countries. Free speech is a precious right that is taken for granted and must be preserved. Hindering this right is detrimental to society as a whole.