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At UN, Call to Cancel Syria Photos, on Day of Charlie Hebdo Attack

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 7 -- On a day when officials around the world and at the UN after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris spoke about the right to freedom of expression and to display unpopular views, the UN received a protest to a photo exhibit about Syria set to begin the next day, January 8.

 The Syrian National Coalition -- the moderate opposition, in Washingtonese -- wrote to UN Management official Yukio Takasu:

"It has come to my attention that on 8 – 16 January 2015 the United Nations Secretariat Building will host an exhibit for the Syrian Arab Republic Mission featuring the photographs of Syrian regime propagandist Hagop Vanesian, in an event entitled 'My Homeland.' The UN cannot in good conscience host an exhibit that callously promotes a regime that is responsible for immense death and unprecedented destruction. By doing so, the UN condones the atrocities committed by Syrian forces, and serves as a mouthpiece for Assad’s heinous war crimes."

  As set forth below, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a contradictory way, in a private event in the clubhouse of a group that has itself engaged in censorship, spoke on January 7 about the need for freedom of expression.

  (Whether he's raised this in his native South Korea, where a newspaper editor faces criminal charges for insulting the president, is not known; the issue was not included in Ban's long read-out of his New Years call to South Korean president Park.)

  Perhaps Ban's Secretariat won't act on the SNC complaint, which we're linking to here, because it came one day before the exhibition. Will its response be about "freedom of expression"?

  There are certainly distinctions to be made between Charlie Hebdo, the Syrian government and this photographer, and we're open to hearing all. But what does freedom of expression mean?


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