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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came to Paris to show solidarity with the French people who have been supportive of Palestinian independence. Abbas's presence added to the legitimacy of the Palestinian president and the Palestinian cause.

On the day of the attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, many world leaders came forward to condemn the act of terror.

Last Sunday, they even flew to Paris to take part in the solidarity rally. Building on this momentum, we need to ensure that the same powerful response is issued whenever similar actions against journalists take place elsewhere in the world. However, if the ambivalence of world leaders towards past events is anything to go by, I fear that this will not be the case.
 
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed November 2 as the "International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists", as global response to imprisonment, restriction, and even the killing of journalists has been so muted over the years.

Without doubt, the Paris attack was tragic, but it pales next to the struggles faced daily by journalists around the world - some in countries whose leaders were present at the rally.

Danger to journalists
 
In 2014 alone, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented 61 deaths - in these cases, the New York-based organisation was able to confirm the motives of the killings. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders puts the number at 66.

Listening Post - The return of Charlie Hebdo
During the recent Gaza war alone, 17 Palestinian journalists and media assistants were killed while documenting and transmitting information about the Israeli assault.

Israeli Military Order Number 101 forbids Palestinians from demonstrating in the occupied territories and the Israeli government restricts movements of Palestinian journalists between Gaza and the West Bank and vice versa.

Yet, the Israeli leader unabashedly elbowed his way to the forefront of leaders demonstrating for freedom of expression.
The Palestinian government, whose president also took part in the Paris demonstration, has a similar record in restricting freedom of expression by banning demonstrations and jailing individuals who have defamed the president on social media.
 
Freedom of expression, which was one of the primary aims of the Arab Spring, is experiencing a major setback throughout the region. Journalists from Al Jazeera are among others who have been held for over a year for doing their job. Hundreds of Egyptians are in jail for violating an anti-demonstration law, which was enacted by the former army general.

In June 2013, 300 news websites were blocked in Jordan as a result of a restrictive press and publication law that was rejected by international media freedom organisations. The Vienna-based International Press Institute called on Jordan to rescind the restrictive law, which it said "unjustly imposes direct government control over Internet news providers".

World leaders' involvement
World leaders had many reasons for their participation in the Paris rally. 
The attendance of Jordan's King Abdullah and Queen Rania is said to have been especially well received by the beleaguered French Muslim community. The Jordanian king, a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, represented moderate Islam. His presence was seen as a direct response to those who falsely explain the brutal terror acts using religious justifications.

There is no justification for double standards when it comes to this universal right. Countries and their leaders are no longer allowed to claim cultural, political or security reasons for violating the rights of their citizens to express their thoughts and opinions.


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas came to Paris to show solidarity with the French people who have been supportive of Palestinian independence. Abbas's presence added to the legitimacy of the Palestinian president and the Palestinian cause.

Others might have had legitimate reasons to be in Paris. But their presence in the freedom of expression event can't be ignored.

Freedom of expression is a universal right enshrined in various international treaties and declarations. There is no justification for double standards when it comes to this universal right. Countries and their leaders are no longer allowed to claim cultural, political or security reasons for violating the rights of their citizens to express their thoughts and opinions.
 
The solidarity that was on display in Paris on January 11 will be put to the test the next time a journalist is arrested, or a community is not allowed to express itself, or a group is banned from demonstrating. The leaders of the world who locked their arms in solidarity with the French people and their journalists should not be allowed to wriggle out of their new responsibility.
 
If the murder of the Charlie Hebdo journalists is not to be in vain, then world leaders must turn this day into a watershed for press freedom everywhere. All leaders should be held accountable for their actions and positions - especially when it comes to freedom of expression in their own countries.

The individual's right to freedom of expression should now be considered a responsibility worldwide.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Source: Al Jazeera