Yesterday's tragic murder of five journalists at the Charlie Hebdo reiterates a hard truth. Press freedom is under attack like never before.
Freedom of press breaches are nothing new. Back in 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi was murdered in his office at the University of Tsukaba for translating Salman Rushdie's controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, into Japanese after the 1st Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa in 1989 against the text.
Nevertheless, recent statistics are alarming. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 1101 journalists have been killed since 1992, in "direct reprisal for...(their) work." 2014 witnessed the deaths of 61 journalists and the jailing of 221 worldwide. In the last three years alone, 205 journalists were killed and 664 jailed. The numbers speak for themselves.
Most of these cases have failed to reach the public eye. Exceptions do exist, most notably the incarceration of Aljazeera journalists since 2013. However, this is largely thanks to the size of the organisation these journalists work for, their Western backgrounds and the concerted effort amongst their colleagues to push for their freedom in the public eye: #FreeAJStaff being the prime example.
The rise in the number of deaths is difficult to explain. Most journalists are still killed in war zones, yet the game has changed for foreign correspondents. The word "sahafa" means "Press" and is one western journalists working in the Arab-speaking world are quick to commit to memory. The choice of location is no accident- Iraq, Syria, Algeria and Pakistan all make the top five deadliest countries for journalists to work in- yet such precautions no longer offer the same degree of protection. The most significant reason for this might be the rise of social media, enabling 'terror' groups to communicate independently via the internet. As a result they rely less on foreign press crews to publicise their messages and, if they do, the results can be ugly as ISIS have demonstrated.
It's a little crass to compare yesterday's murders in Paris with those in countries without a free press. Nevertheless, whether or not you agree with figures like Tony Barber at the Financial Times who was quick to argue that Charlie Hebdo is partly to blame for lacking "common sense" or that the paper was entirely innocent and punished for the "crime of doing nothing more than holding up the world for scrutiny" , it's hard to avoid a simple generalisation. All were journalists. And all were doing their job.
It's pleasing to see images across the world of people massing in their thousands to hold vigils for those who stood for freedom in our press. It is a dark day indeed for liberté if we allow our media to back off.
The pen will endure, but, once again, the sword has struck hard and deep. It's time to pull it out.
Je suis Charlie? Oui.