SHAFAQNA| by Leila Yazdani: Journalists across the Middle East are being harassed, intimidated, arbitrarily detained and deported, subjected to torture and other forms of violence, and some have been killed. Infact, the media has paid a heavy price for its sustained and courageous efforts to inform local and international populations about the political upheavals in the Middle East.
The key role of journalists and other media actors in unveiling wrongdoing, corruption, crime and abuse of power exposes them to intimidation, threats, harassment and violence, abusive litigation, sometimes to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and in some most extreme cases to torture and killings.
In the course of their work, journalists and other media actors face specific risks and discrimination on different grounds. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse, with all the countries in the region tightening restrictions on news media, Freedom House said in a report.
Most countries in the Middle East already are rated as “not free” by Freedom House that releases a yearly index surveying freedoms, including press freedoms, in 192 countries. Its 2020 edition had four Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Libya — on its “worst of the worst” list. Only Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait and Morocco scored a “partly free” rating, LA Times reported.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific jailers of journalists
The Government of Saudi Arabia retains tight control over media outlets, which they believe should promote national unity. Officials do not tolerate criticism directed towards the government.
At a ranking of 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific jailers of journalists, with 34 journalists currently languishing behind bars in connection with their work. Many of these journalists have been mistreated in detention, imi.org.ua told.
Saudi Arabia imprisoned 26 journalists in 2019, according to the CPJ, and has yet to deliver justice in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, inside the kingdom’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul.
Targeting of journalists in Bahrain has turned into systematic behavior by authorities
International and human rights organizations criticize the targeting of journalists and independent opinion makers in Bahrain. Reports issued annually confirm that this targeting has turned into systematic and common behavior by the Bahraini authorities.
The organizations are calling for the release of all detained journalists, the cessation of arbitrary prosecutions and arrests against them, and the opening of media and journalistic freedoms in the country.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) put Bahrain in the 169th rank in the list of 180 countries, according to “The illusion of peace in the Middle East” report. The annual report showed a two-rank decline in press freedom in Bahrain, dropping from a 167 ranking last year, Bahrain Mirror reported.
Mahmoud al-Jaziri was moved to solitary confinement on April 8 as retaliation for an audio clip that surfaced on dissident-run media channel Bahrain Today3, according to the coalition. In the recording, he disputed reports that Bahraini authorities had taken measures to protect prisoners from the spread of the novel coronavirus. Moreover, Bahrain Women journalists are increasingly coming under attack in Bahrain, due to the monarchy’s suppression of free expression and the media, Adhrb told.
Libya remains a tough place for journalists
Libya remains a tough place for journalists, media professionals and activists who continue to face intimidation and smear campaigns, attacks on their homes, families and physical integrity, and arbitrary prosecution for the work they do. The conflict has further exacerbated threats to media freedom in Libya.
Journalists and media professionals work under extremely high personal risk in Libya which ranks 164th on the World Press Freedom Index in 2020. In May 2020, photojournalist Ismail Bouzriba Al-Zoui was sentenced to no less than 15 years in prison by a military court in Benghazi. In August, radio journalist Sami al-Sharif was detained and reportedly tortured after covering protests in Tripoli. Mohammed Omar Baio, Head of the Libyan Media Office, was unlawfully arrested in Tripoli on 20 October. Journalists invited to international events have been harassed upon their return to Libya, Eeas.europa.eu told.
Somalia remains one of the most dangerous places for journalists
Somalia remains one of the most dangerous places for journalists across the globe. For the fifth year in a row, the country has maintained the world title for impunity towards killed journalists.
The Somali authorities rarely investigate cases of killings or attacks on journalists, media outlets and critics.
At least eight journalists have been killed in south central Somalia and Puntland in the past three years. Four of the journalists (including a cameraman who was shot dead by a policeman) were killed in 2018, two in 2019 and two others in 2020.
To an unprecedented level, assaults and targeted incidents of attacks on journalists have risen.
According to data compiled by the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS), 53 cases of arbitrary arrests were recorded. There were also 81 incidents of physical assaults. Three of these journalists were severely wounded, two of them with gun shots.
There were also death threats against journalists, and obstruction of access to information during the year, Africafex told. Seven media houses were also shut across the country during 2019.
The NUSOJ said the new bill would improve the situation of media freedom and freedom of expression “by repealing the draconian and widely discredited 2016 Media Law that infringed on the country’s constitutional rights.” The union especially welcomed the government’s stated interest in establishing Public Service Broadcasting.
However, the new law falls far short of expectations of the media industry, said the NUSOJ, as it continues to criminalize journalistic work and allows for high fines for journalists and media outlets. The bill introduces a new system of prosecutors and courts that will facilitate the prosecution of journalists on vague claims, Ifj.org told.
Egypt has made journalism a crime with crackdown
Journalism in Egypt has effectively become a crime over the past four years, Amnesty International says, as authorities clamp down on media outlets and muzzle dissent. “The Egyptian authorities have made it very clear that anyone who challenges the official narrative will be severely punished,”
Amnesty documented 37 cases of journalists being detained in the government’s escalating crackdown on press freedoms. Many had been charged with “spreading false news” or “misusing social media” under a broad 2015 counter terrorism law, which has expanded the definition of terror to include all kinds of dissent, according to The Guardian.
Amnesty International tweeted: “The organisation expresses its grave concern over the ongoing attacks on press freedoms in Egypt, as at least five journalists have been arrested since September, while dozens are still behind bars simply because they are journalists who did their work or expressed their opinions.”, Middle East Monitor reported.
The overcrowding of Egyptian prisons, such as the one in al-Qanater, and inhumane conditions threaten to turn detention places into coronavirus clusters.
Solafa Magdy, a freelance multimedia journalist, and her husband have been jailed since November 2019 on charges of “membership of a banned group” and “spreading false news”, Al Jazeera mentioned.
There were many cases of detention of journalists and citizens, the closure of media platforms and the expulsion of foreign correspondents, with maintain the pre-2019 conditions, such as the continued detention and imprisonment of journalists since 2014, the continued blocking of websites, the nationalization of media institutions, and the closure of independent media outlets and means, En.eipss told.
Moroccan government illegally targeted journalists
On 22 June 2020, Amnesty International published a report from an investigation into allegations that the Moroccan government illegally targeted journalists, dissenters and human rights defenders by using spyware f, including against Omar Radi, a Moroccan prominent human rights defender and journalist, ibanet.org reported.
Attacks against journalists and other media actors constitute particularly serious violations of human rights because they target not only the concerned individuals, but deprive others of their right to receive information.