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Many of the world leaders who attended Sunday's march for free press have poor records on the issue in their own countries, critics say. (Photo: EPA)

Critics Decry 'Hypocrisy' of World Leaders' Photo Op in Paris

Many of those who marched for free speech are leaders of oppressive governments, say journalists

Nadia Prupis

On Sunday, an estimated 3.7 million people marched throughout France in the wake of last Wednesday's shooting at the offices of satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The march, which called for unity and free speech, drew a crowd of one million in Paris—the largest in that city's history.

However, as investigative journalist and The Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill said in an interview Monday with Democracy Now!, the event lost some of its power given the presence of several world leaders who run oppressive governments in their own countries. "[T]his is sort of a circus of hypocrisy when it comes to all of those world leaders who were marching at the front of it," Scahill said. "[E]very single one of those heads of state or representatives of governments there have waged their own wars against journalists."

Among them, Scahill noted, was UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who ordered The Guardian to destroy the hard drives that held the files leaked in 2013 by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. And Cameron was joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, whose regime has "kidnapped, abducted, jailed journalists" reporting on Palestine, Scahill said.

"[T]hen you have... General [Abdel Fattal al] Sisi, the dictator of Egypt, who apparently is showing his solidarity for press freedom by continuing to preside over the imprisonment of multiple Al Jazeera journalists whose only crime was doing actual journalism and scores of other Egyptian journalists that never get mentioned in the news media," Scahill continued.

Scahill's criticisms followed similar remarks made Sunday by Daniel Wickham, a British journalist and activist. In a series of messages posted to Twitter on Sunday, Wickham laid out those leaders' own poor records against journalists in their home countries, even as other news sources praised them as "staunch defenders" of free press.

The Independent also noted that the image of those 40-odd heads of state linking arms and marching through the streets of Paris in what the New York Times called a show of "unity in outrage" was actually a coordinated photo op, taken on an empty street away from the million-strong crowd.

"[T]he front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows other dignitaries and officials – after which there was a large security presence maintaining a significant gap with the throngs of other marchers," the Independent reported. "The measure was presumably taken for security reasons – but political commentators have suggested that it raises doubts as to whether the leaders were really part of the march at all."

Reporters Without Borders also condemned the presence of those leaders at the march.

"On what grounds are representatives of regimes that are predators of press freedom coming to Paris to pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo, a publication that has always defended the most radical concept of freedom of expression?" the organization said in a statement on Sunday.

RWB added, "Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the presence of leaders from countries where journalists and bloggers are systematically persecuted such as Egypt (which is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RWB’s press freedom index), Russia (148th), Turkey (154th) and United Arab Emirates (118th)."

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