Whether suppressed by authoritarian rulers or censored by rebel militias, the freedom to report the news is heavily curtailed in the Middle East, where the situation is classified as “very serious” in more than half of its countries. They include Iran (177th), which intensified its persecution of journalists, arresting more than 70 of them in the months following Kurdish student Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody. Saudi Arabia (170th) is also near the bottom of the index. Emboldened by the impunity enjoyed by the crown prince in connection with the Khashoggi murder, the Saudi kingdom continues to repress journalists, sentencing them long prison terms, banning them from leaving the country, and keeping them under close surveillance, even when abroad.
In the Gulf, monarchies also resort to surveillance and censorship to control the media, a practice that even extends to the Mediterranean and to Jordan (down 26 at 146th), where courts continue to impose “publication bans”. Censorship has also not let up in Egypt (166th), where the military dictatorship persists in jailing reporters rather than keeping its reform promises.
Syria (175th) continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, who are caught in the crossfire between Bashar al-Assad’s murderous army, militias, and Turkish interventions. It remains the country where the most journalists are held hostage, followed by Yemen (168th) and Iraq (167th). In Palestine (156th), despite a 14-place increase, the security indicator has unsurprisingly suffered a sharp fall after two more journalists were killed and Israeli security forces carried out more attacks against the media, with complete impunity.
Qatar (up 14 at 105th) is one of the region’s few countries to have risen in the index, thanks to the World Cup effect. Under a spotlight and in a bid not to tarnish the country’s image, the authorities relaxed some of the rules obstructing the media, even if some subjects were still difficult to cover.
Authoritarian drift in the Maghreb
Working conditions for journalists also continue to deteriorate in North Africa, where President Saied’s Tunisia (121st) and President Tebboune’s Algeria (136th) have intensified their drift towards authoritarianism. After suspending and then dissolving parliament, Tunisia’s president has reversed press freedom gains made after the 2011 revolution, and journalists are being prosecuted for their investigative reporting. In Algeria, although article 54 of the constitution guarantees press freedom, more and more journalists find themselves in court in connection with their reporting, and a new, much criticised media law was adopted with no prior consultation. In Morocco (down 9 at 144th), journalists Omar Radi and Souleiman Raissouni are still being held arbitrarily and the judicial harassment of other outspoken journalists continues unabated.