The Suriname book prohibition in a global context of free expression

Feature image created by FS Abdul via Canva Pro with image of @grapix2.

Surinamese President Chandrikapersad Santokhi's recent enactment of a prohibition against a publication about corruption in the country casts an ominous shadow upon freedom of speech and press liberty — and with elections coming up, one might question the president's commitment to be re-elected and have the country continue to enjoy international standing.

This action, which involves legal measures to stop the purchase and reading of a book that is critical of the government, is more than just a local issue. It becomes a global concern, striking a chord with anyone who values democratic freedoms and sees the vital role of the press in keeping those in power accountable.

Notably, this confrontation in Suriname was marked by de Ware Tijd, the largest national newspaper's steadfast refusal to bow to President Santokhi's demands to withdraw an image of the book's cover from its website, sparking a dialogue that has transcended national boundaries. The book, which reportedly includes allegations about the president, Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Minister Parmanand Sewdien, and entrepreneur Vijay Kirpalani, is titled “Corruption at the Highest Level.”

The failed attempt to have the newspaper withdraw the image, albeit unique in its specifics, mirrors the broader global battle against censorship and corruption — a battle that would be familiar to those with experiences in Gaza, Austria, or even the Netherlands. In Gaza, the curtailing of free expression has been cloaked in the pretext of national security; in Austria, revelations of the depth of its corruption sent shockwaves through the political sphere; and in the Netherlands, the integrity of political figures remains under scrutiny. Each example highlights a fundamental truth: the liberty to question, critique, and reveal wrongdoing is crucial for the health of any society.

The scenario currently unfolding in Suriname serves as an example of the critical need to champion these liberties. The steadfast commitment to press freedom by the Surinamese Association of Journalists symbolises a significant resistance against the advance of authoritarian control. This struggle is part of a larger narrative that demands our attention.

As someone working in international relations, I have both seen and been directly affected by the ramifications of censorship and corruption, and find Suriname's trajectory deeply disconcerting. I've done my fair share of butting heads with international government officials not adhering to their mandate; sometimes, personal ethics corresponded with the proclaimed ethics of the project but collided with institutional policies or the practices of those in charge — and too often, internal systems would try to silence my voice when I tried to address these topics. My own country, the Netherlands, has been marred by government scandals of institutional injustice and discrimination, which in turn directly affect citizens like me.

The rights to free speech and press freedom are not merely constitutional formalities. Rather, they are the cornerstone of democratic participation. When government officials attempt to suppress opposing views, they undermine the essential foundations of trust and accountability that are crucial for sound governance.

The book ban in Suriname highlights a critical challenge to democracy, emphasizing the ongoing need for transparency and freedom not only in Suriname or the Caribbean but also globally. It demonstrates how ignoring such issues is similar to supporting them.
We must stand with journalists, writers, and citizens worldwide who bravely hold authority to account. Our freedoms depend on our collective action and vigilance leveraging each of our strengths combined to one force.

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