EWOUT KLEI / Historian and the editor of the De Kanttekening magazine published in Netherland
“The power of a free and an independent press guided by democratic ideals is a force that scares authoritarian leaders. Although Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi and Victor Orbán do not share the same religion or ideology, they have the same goals: To silence all opposition to their power to control the judiciary, the press and the narrative.”
‘Take care of the liberty of the press, for that is the only support of your national liberty. If we have no liberty to speak freely to our fellow-citizens, or to give them timely advice, it will be very easy for our oppressors to act their sinister parts; and it is for that reason that those, who cannot bear to hear their conduct enquired into, are always exclaiming against the liberty of free speech and of the press, and could with that nothing was printed or sold without permission.’
Joan Derk van der Capellen, To e People of the Netherlands (1781) The freedom of speech and of the press are fundamental to a liberal democracy, in which individual rights and freedoms are off icially recognized and protected, and the exercise of political power is limited by the rule of law. I am very grateful to live in the Netherlands, where journalists, intellectuals and dissidents are not persecuted, oppressed or thrown into prison, where the government respect the freedom of religion of its citizens, where we have an independent judiciary, a parliamentary representative democracy and a multiparty system. Of course not everything is perfect and we journalists and intellectuals have always be watchful and resilient against antidemocratic forces, but in comparison to other countries we enjoy a lot of freedoms. Th e Netherlands is ranked at place 5, out of 180 countries, on the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Of course, even in the Netherlands, it has not always been the case. 18th century journalist, intellectual and dissident politician Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol, who criticized corruption, favouritism, religious discrimination and other abuses, was forced to write his pamphlet To the People of the Netherlands (Aan het Volk van Nederland) anonymously. But he convinced his readers, the people of the Netherlands, of the necessity to express your thoughts freely, to discuss politics freely, to inform the public truthfully about wat is really going on. When Dutch newspaper De Post van den Neder-Rhijn, which fought for the same cause as Van der Capellen, made a secret agreement between Stadholder William V the Prince of Orange and his adviser the Duke of Brunswick public, the latter had to resign.
Th e power of a free and independent press, driven by democratic ideals, is a force that authoritarian leaders fear. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi and Victor Orbán don’t share the same religion or ideology, but do have the same goals: to silence all opposition to their rule, to control the judiciary, to control the press, to control the narrative.
In these illiberal post-truth times the need for freedom and the truth are perhaps more important than ever. Th e truth is on the march. Even in these days. We are obligated to defend journalists, intellectuals and dissidents, because they defend our democratic values. In fact, they keep our values alive by their fire. Liberty needs the heroes the past – Van der Capellen, Emile Zola, George Orwell, Sebastian Haff ner, Václav Havel – but also needs the heroes of the present – Ahmet Altan, Osman Kavala, Soulaiman Raissouni, Omar Radi, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and many others.