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Frygt og ubrugt ytringsfrihed FØR Charlie Hebdo

For mange år siden – dengang jeg arbejdede som lokal journalist i Cambodja – havde vi på min redaktion et lettere ambivalent forhold til ytringsfriheden. Ikke fordi avisen, landets ældste og mest respekterede engelsksprogede avis The Phnom Penh Post, havde nogen som helst forbehold i forhold til journalister, læsere og kilders ret til at udtrykke deres tanker, følelser og meninger. Tværtimod. Vi kæmpede hver eneste dag for at holde netop ytringsfriheden højt og i hævd, og vi gjorde det godt.

Ytr02bNæh, ambivalensen lå i, at vi vidste, at der var historier, som var for farlige at skrive. Og derfor skrev vi dem ikke.

Det var et absolut fåtal af historier, som endte i den kategori. Vi skrev rigtig mange kontroversielle historier, som landets magthavere og rigmænd absolut ikke var glade for at se på tryk. Når en af den slags artikler var på vej i avisen, plejede redaktionschefen i spøg at opfordre os til at tage tennisketcherne frem – så vi kunne lobbe håndgranaterne tilbage over muren, når de blev smidt ind.

Der var et gran af alvor i den spøg. Det var ikke risikoløst at være kritisk og undersøgende journalist i Cambodja. De cambodjanske magthavere havde (og har stadig) en årtier lang tradition for at møde selv den mindste modstand med mord, overfald og voldtægt. Og særligt vores cambodjanske kolleger var udsat. De blev jævnligt passet op af usympatiske typer, der holdt af at bruge vendingen “vi ved, hvor du bor”.

Og myndighederne holdt øje med os. Vores telefoner blev aflyttet. Udenfor på gaden sad en række informanter klædt ud som motorcykeltaxier, som fulgte efter os, når vi skulle ud i byen og interviewe kilder. En overgang havde vi også en såkaldt kontorspion. Han opførte sig dog så åbenlyst mistænkeligt, at han hurtigt blev smidt ud.

Det var helt almindeligt, at kilder, som man stillede kritiske spørgsmål, reagerede med mere eller mindre slet skjulte trusler. Jeg har flere gange siddet over for politichefer, embedsmænd og militærfolk, som antydede, at jeg jo også lige pludselig kunne komme ud for et færdselsuheld i Phnom Penhs myldretidstrafik.

Det skete nogle gange, at jeg i de situationer, undlod at sætte min cambodjanske kollegas navn på artiklen. Men det er også sket en enkelt gang, at jeg helt har undladt at skrive artiklen – og oven i købet bad redaktøren om heller ikke at få en anden journalist til at skrive den. Fordi jeg var bange.

Historien handlede om ulovlig skovhugst oppe i den nordvestlige del af landet. Der lå en af De Røde Khmerers gamle højborge, Pailin – et sted hvor jeg på den tid kom med jævne mellemrum. Det var rendyrket ‘frontierland’, og hvis resten af Cambodja var pletvist lovløst, var Pailin fuldstændig uden for lov og ret. De gamle guerillaer havde meget lidt forståelse for noget så abstrakt som justitssystemer, og der var fire timers kørsel til den nærmeste civiliserede by.

Deroppe mødte jeg på et tidspunkt en belgisk mafioso, som gik under navnet Dr. Rudi. Han inviterede mig på en øl, og da han selv havde fået adskillige, fortalte han mig, at han havde købt rettighederne til et stort antal gamle stammer af ædeltræ, som lå på stykke land uden for Pailin, og som han ville sælge videre til Thailand. Det var dybt kontroversielt, for landets ministerpræsident havde lige lovet, at stoppe alt salg af cambodjansk tømmer eller gå af.

Derfor gjorde Dr. Rudi mig også opmærksom på, at hvis jeg skrev historien, før han sagde, at jeg måtte, så skulle han nok sørge for at få mig fyret. Den trussel udviklede sig øl for øl til, at han ville få avisen lukket, at han ville få mig smidt ud af landet, at han ville få nogen til at tampe livet ud af mig – og til sidst til, at han ville få mig slået ihjel.

Han var fuld, javel, og burde måske som sådan ikke tages alvorligt. Men da jeg tilbage i Phnom Penh fandt ud af, hvem Dr. Rudi egentlig havde forbindelser til, blev jeg alligevel bange. Så bange, at jeg ikke skrev historien.

Så ja, jeg gjorde nøjagtig det, som Jyllands-Posten nu bliver kritiseret af bl.a. Inger Støjberg for at gøre, fordi de ikke ville trykke tegninger fra Charlie Hebdo i dagene efter massakren på det franske satiriske magasin: Jeg undlod at bruge min ytringsfrihed.

Og det gjorde vi som sagt ind imellem på The Phnom Penh Post, som i øvrigt er anerkendt som den enkeltstående institution, der har gjort mest for ytringsfriheden og den frie presse i Cambodja.

Er det i orden, at en journalist undlader at skrive en historie, fordi han/hun er bange, eller at en avis undlader at trykke en tegning af hensyn til medarbejdernes sikkerhed? Ja!

Er der i orden, at journalisten skal være bange på grund af en historie, eller at avisen er tvunget til at overveje medarbejdernes sikkerhed? Nej!

Men det er to vidt forskellige ting, og ingen journalist, tegner eller redaktør har pligt til at sætte livet på spil mere, end de selv vil være med til. Forstå venligst det, Inger Støjberg og andre ligesindede.

Omvendt er det også vigtigt at sige højt, at ytringsfriheden ER knægtet. I Cambodja vidste alle, at kritiske journalister risikerede liv og lemmer, og derfor kunne menneskerettighedsorganisationer og de få klarsynede donorer handle på det. I Danmark, Frankrig og andre vestlige lande risikerer islamkritiske tegnere og aviser nu at blive angrebet af terrorister. Men det kan ingen handle meningsfuldt på, så længe vi holder fast i, at ytringsfriheden er intakt.

For det er den altså ikke. Præcis som den ikke var det dengang i Cambodja. Skal vi ikke se det tragiske faktum i øjnene og arbejde på at løse det problem i stedet for at kritisere hinanden for at være bange?

Reklamer

Fear and freedom of expression BEFORE Charlie Hebdo

Years ago – back when I worked as a local journalist in Cambodia – our newsroom had a slightly ambivalent relation to the freedom of expression. Not because the paper – the oldest and most respected English-languaged newspaper in the country, The Phnom Penh Post – had any reservations whatsoever about the right of journalists, readers and sources to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions. Quite the contrary. We fought everyday to uphold precisely the freedom of expression and we did it well.

Ytr02bNo, the ambivalence lay in, that we knew there were stories that were too dangerous to write. And therefore we didn’t write them.

It was an absolute minimum of stories that ended up in that category. We wrote many, many controversial stories that the powerful and the rich of the country definitely didn’t like to see in print. When one of those articles was on the way, our editor would jokingly tell us to get the tennis rackets out – so that we could lob the handgrenades back over the fence, when they were thrown in.

There was a certain amount of seriousness in that joke. It wasn’t free of risk to be a critical or investigative reporter in Cambodja. The Cambodian rulers had (and still have) a decades long tradition of meeting even the slightest opposition with murder, assault and rape. And especially our Cambodian colleagues were at risk. They were regularly approached by unsavoury characters who would use the sentence “we know where you live”.

And the authorities kept an eye on us. Our phones were tapped. Outside on the street a row of informers dressed up as motorbike taxies waited and would follow us around when we went to do interviews around town. For a while we also had a so-called office spy. He acted so obviously suspicious that he was quickly kicked out.

When asked critical questions, it was quite common that sources would react with more or less veiled threats. Several times I have sat with police chiefs, government officials and military people who indicated that I could suddenly have an unfortunate accident in the Phnom Penh rush hour traffic.

In those situations I would sometimes omit my Cambodian colleague’s name from the article. But it has also happened once that I didn’t write the article at all – and even asked the editor not to let another journalist write it. Because I was afraid.

The story was about illegal logging in the Northwestern part of the country. Here lay one of the old Khmer Rouge strongholds, Pailin – a place that I would visit regularly at the time. It was pure frontier country, and if the rest of Cambodia was sporadically lawless, Pailin was beyond law and order all together. The old guerillas had very little understanding of the term rule of law and it was a four hours drive to the nearest civilized town.

At one point I met a Belgian mafioso by the name of Dr. Rudi up there. He invited me for a beer and when he himself had had plenty he told me that he had bought the rights to a large amount of logs lying around on a piece of land outside Pailin and that he planned to sell it to Thailand. It was highly controversial, since the Cambodian prime minister had recently promised that he would stop all trade in timber or step down.

So Dr. Rudi told me that if I wrote the story before he said that I could he would make sure I was fired from my job. Beer by beer that threat evolved into that he would make sure the paper was closed, that he would have me thrown out of the country, that he would have me beaten up – and eventually that he would have me killed.

Sure he was drunk, and as such he probably shouldn’t have been taken seriously. But when I got back to Phnom Penh and found out tho Dr. Rudi was connected to I became afraid nevertheless. So afraid that I didn’t write the story.

So yes, I did exactly what Jyllands-Posten is now criticized for doing – among others by Inger Støjberg – because they did not want to print cartoons from Charlie Hebdo in the days following the massacre on the French satirical magazine: I refrained from using my freedom of expression.

And like I said: We did that from time to seldom time at the Phnom Penh Post – a paper that is recognized as the institution that has singlehandedly done the most for the freedom of expression and the free press in Cambodia.

Is it okay that a journalist refrains from writing a story because he/she is afraid or that a paper doesn’t print a cartoon due to considerations for the safety of the editorial staff? Yes!

Is it okay, that the journalist must be afraid because of a story or that the paper is forced to consider the safety of its editorial staff? No!

But they are two different issues and no journalist, cartoonist or editor is duty-bound to risk their life more than they want to. Please understand that, Inger Støjberg, and others likeminded.

On the other hand it is also important to say out loud that the freedom of expression is brought to heel. In Cambodia everyone knew that critical journalists risked their lives and limbs, and therefore human rights organizations and the few clear-sighted donors could act on it. In Denmark, France and other Western countries islam-critical cartoonists and papers now risk being attacked by terrorists. But nobody can act properly on that as long as we maintain that the freedom of expression is intact.

Because it isn’t. Exactly like it wasn’t back then in Cambodia. Should we not face that tragic fact and work on solving the problem instead of criticizing each other for being afraid?

 

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