Charlie Hebdo – the view from NUJ Paris

James Overton, Paris branch chair

Two days after the murderous attack at the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, (on Wednesday January 7,) a dignified ceremony took place involving representatives of international journalist organisations outside the crime scene on Rue Nicholas Appert in Paris.

Paris - je suis charlie

Anthony Bellanger, deputy secretary-general of the International Federation of Journalists said: “We came to express our emotion after our colleagues at Charie Hebdo were killed on Wednesday. We need to stand with our heads held high for the sake of the whole profession, not just here in France but all over the world. We have received messages of support from Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Americas. Everywhere people are getting ready to defend the freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Today we are all Charlie Hebdo.”

On Sunday, January 11, NUJ Paris organized a welcome committee for the NUJ delegation which included general-secretary Michelle Stanistreet, assistant GS Seamus Dooley and the union’s co-president Andy Smith. In a press release, NUJ Paris branch had issued this statement: “The murder in cold blood of our colleagues at Charlie Hebdo is a direct attack on the most fundamental human right – the right to free speech. Some of the victims were personal friends of certain (Paris NUJ) members. We offer our support and solidarity to the victims’ loved ones. The price for being a journalist is often the highest a person can pay. The bravery and engagement of our colleagues at Charlie Hebdo sets an example to us all. Our resolve to work for a world in which freedom of expression can be expressed remains intact.

”With the help of branch members, French and Spanish versions were communicated to sister unions around the world. On Sunday morning, 11 January, the NUJ added its contribution to an impressive pile of flowers left by the police barrier close to the crime scene. This has been growing all the time, as people pay their personal tributes to the victims. The dead who were remembered were not only the 12 killed during the murderous attack at Charlie Hebdo, but also the young policewoman killed in south Paris and the four people who died at the supermarket at Porte de Vincennes.

NUJ Paris members - jesuischarlie

A long banner had been prepared, bearing logos of the French and international unions. In the street, the journalist “protected square” was immediately behind another zone containing relatives and friends of the victims. It was particularly poignant to see the courage of these people, some aged or in wheelchairs, as they struggled to maintain their composure and participate in the event.

Shortly after 3pm, two coaches arrived with the government leaders, including President Francois Hollande, UK prime minister David Cameron, German chancellor Angela Merkel and many others. They formed up in another protected zone behind us and posed for the cameras. Eventually the march got going, very slowly. Half an hour later the government leaders were escorted back to their coaches and left, they had in fact only walked about 50 meters. The procession continued, with dense crowds standing on both sides of the Boulevard applauding. Members of the journalist delegations held up their press cards and were welcomed particularly warmly.

Apart from occasional chants of “Charlie!” the march was generally silent. Around 5 pm, with night falling, the procession arrived at the vast Place de la Nation where the march ended. There was no platform, there were no speeches. People gradually dispersed among the dense throng. It was remarkable to see among the enormous crowd people of all ages and backgrounds, including families and many young people. There were significant numbers from immigrant communities. Many held hand-drawn signs saying they were moslem or jewish.

On the way home, we discussed the day with neighbours travelling on the metro, buses or regional trains. Among the diverse comments collected: “Can we retain this movement which motivated so many people?” ”It was very disciplined and spontaneous,” ”It is essential that a wide-ranging debate be held after these horrific events,” “We were impressed by the lack of political flags and slogans, that was very unusual on a demonstration,” “The police army and security services did a magnificent job.”