China slams 'western' press freedom amid solidarity

Sunday, January 11, 2015
[PHOTO: Renato Ganoza/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Beijing: China's official media has hit out at "Western" notions of press freedom in the wake of attacks in Paris that left a dozen people dead, sparking a hostage crisis in the French capital.

Wednesday's attacks on the weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was carried out by gunmen believed to be Islamist militants wanting revenge for the weekly's lampooning of key Islamic figures, including the Prophet Mohammad.

After the shootings, elite French police stormed a printworks and a Jewish supermarket, killing two brothers wanted for the attack and an apparent accomplice who had taken hostages in two separate sieges.

The attacks were a trending topic on China's microblog platforms, and made the comment pages of major media outlets controlled by the China's ruling Communist Party on Friday.

In its Chinese-language edition, the tabloid Global Times newspaper hit out at the use of satire by Western news media.

"Westerners believe that when a small minority of Western media satirize the Islamic prophet, that this is 'freedom of the press,'" the paper said in an editorial on Friday.

"Some people even see the protection of this freedom a Western value."

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets around the world in the wake of the massacre, holding banners and placards reading "I am Charlie," in support of press freedom.

But the Global Times said many Muslims living in the West "feel that they are neither trusted nor respected."

It said Western politicians were unwilling to "curb" media outlets because of their need to win votes. "Sometimes they even support the media," the paper said.

While the official Xinhua news agency echoed the Chinese government's condemnation of the attacks, it said they had highlighted "issues with France's anti-terrorism and immigration policies in recent years."

French involvement in strikes on Libya and the Islamic State had turned the country into a target for terrorists, while religious extremism has been allowed to flourish under the country's liberal religious freedom policies, it said.

"The specter of terrorism had surfaced in France well before this attack," the article said.

Cartoonists respond

Charlie Hebdo's editor and some of France's best-known political cartoonists were among those killed when masked men armed with automatic rifles burst into an editorial meeting at the weekly's Paris offices on Wednesday.

The global outcry over the killings included a series of cartoons pitting pens and pencils against rifles, in solidarity with the victims of the attack.

Chinese cartoonists added their own responses, depicting a wounded personification of "Liberte," or freedom, as well as references to literary accounts of the July Revolution of 1830, which are studied in Chinese schools and universities.

Political cartoonist Wang Liming, known by his online nickname "Biantai Lajiao" (in English, Perverted Chili Pepper), posted a cartoon in which a masked terrorist mistakes a pen for a weapon.

Wang, who has frequently been targeted by the Chinese authorities for his work, wrote on Twitter: "The worst that can happen to a cartoonist [in China] is a jail sentence, but in France, they can be gunned down and killed for poking fun at a religion."

"Hmm. Perhaps I should thank our precious party one more time for being so gracious as to refrain from killing me," Wang tweeted.

'Demonizing' the West

Journalist Zhu Xinxin, a member of the writers' group Independent Chinese PEN, said the official media was simply looking for excuses to attack the notion of press freedom.

"We have to make a distinction between Islamist terrorists and Muslims," Zhu said. "Most people around the world don't think that Charlie Hebdo overstepped the mark in terms of racism or discrimination against other cultures."

"[This article] really is confusing black with white," he said. "The Global Times often picks on various conflicts and problems in the West and blames them on Western democracy or press freedom."

"They want to use this incident to prove that their own controls on the media are justified, and seize on this issue to demonize press freedom in the West," he said.

Guangzhou-based artist He Guoquan said that while perhaps there was a debate to be had about satire directed at religions, the incident has highlighted the lack of any such freedom in China itself.

"All the media in China are run by the state and controlled to the extent that no dissenting voices can emerge," He said.

"There are two main pillars of human civilization: one is the freedom of expression, and the other is democratic elections," he said.

"They have to be upheld."

Press freedom in China

China led the world in imprisoning journalists in 2014, with a total of 29 behind bars, a Paris-based press freedom group said in a recent annual report.

China, which fell two places to rank 175th in the Reporters Without Borders Global Press Freedom Index in 2014, is also holding 73 netizens, the group said.

Journalists' associations in Hong Kong issued statements condemning the violence.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA), which has highlighted eroding press freedom in Hong Kong amid a series of violent attacks on outspoken journalists in recent years, said it is "shocked and outraged by the incident."

"We hold this attack to be tantamount to the murder of free speech and press freedom," the group said in a statement on its website.

"HKJA reiterates that any form of threat, no matter how deadly, will not deter journalists and others in the fourth estate from defending the freedom of press and free speech as a whole," it said.

Meanwhile, foreign correspondents who gathered in a show of solidarity, holding "Je suis Charlie" placards at a Beijing cafe were carefully watched by Chinese police, the Wall Street Journal reported on its China blog.

'Common enemy'

China on Thursday condemned the attack, describing terrorism as "a common enemy of all mankind."

"Terrorism is a common enemy of all mankind and a common threat to the entire international community," President Xi Jinping was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Xi, who launched a one-year anti-terror campaign in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang last May, said China "stands ready to work with France and other countries ... to safeguard world peace and protect the people of all countries," the report said.

The Xinjiang region, which is home to millions of Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, has seen an upsurge in violence that has left hundreds dead since 2012, and which China has blamed on terrorists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state.

But rights groups accuse the Chinese authorities of ethnically targeted violence in the form of police raids on Uyghur households, as well as tight restrictions on the practice of Islam, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Copyright © 1998-2015, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.
Next Post »