SYRIAThe crackdown by the Syrian authorities on media trying to cover the anti-government protests continues to escalate. Arrests, threats and acts of intimidation are all still taking place. The Internet is also being censored. The Syrian journalist and writer Ammar Mashour Dayoub was arrested yesterday while taking part in a demonstration by about 100 people in Arnous Square, in central Damascus. Malak Al-Shanawani, another Syrian journalist, was also arrested yesterday. Ghadi Frances, a Libyan journalist working for the Lebanese daily Al-Safir, was arrested in Damascus on the afternoon of 7 May. No information about the reason for her arrest has been given. She had arrived in Syria ten days ago to cover the unrest and had written an article in Arabic headlined “Blood, horror and hope in the street in Homs” on the eve of her arrest. Ghassan Saoud, a Lebanese journalist who writes for Al-Akhbar (a Lebanese newspaper regarded as pro-Syrian), was briefly detained on 6 May near the Omeyyades mosque in Damascus. He was taken to a military police office with a plastic bag over his head and was repeatedly kicked and insulted. He has written a series of articles about the pro-democracy uprising in which he interviewed members of the Syrian political opposition, young people and activists, and reported their views. Meanwhile, there is no news of Jehad Jamal, a Facebook activist known by the pseudonym of Milan. The photographer Akram Darwish was arrested while covering a Kurdish demonstration in the northeastern city of Qamishili on 3 May. The reporter Iyad Khalil was badly beaten in the northwestern port city of Latakia oh the evening of 1 May. When he went to the police station to report the assault, he found himself face to face with his assailants, who turned out to have been members of the security forces (see his Facebook page). Maher Deib has resigned as a presenter on Syrian national television in protest against the station’s coverage of the unrest. Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that Habib Saleh, a cyber-dissident who was arrested in May 2008, has been released on completing a three-year jail sentence. The following are still detained:
- The Syrian writer and journalist Omar Koush, who was arrested on 2 May on his arrival at Damascus airport after attending a conference in Turkey.
- Dorothy Parvaz, an Al-Jazeera journalist with US, Canadian and Iranian nationality who was arrested on her arrival at Damascus airport on 29 April. This is the Facebook page calling for her release. The government newspaper Al-Watan nonetheless claims that she left the country on 1 May without saying where she was going.
- Fayez Sara, a Syrian journalist and writer arrested on 11 April.
- Mohamed Zaid Mistou, a Norwegian journalist of Syrian origin arrested on 7 April.
- Kamal Sheikhou, a Syrian blogger arrested on 15 March.
There is still no news of the journalists Akram Abu Safi and Sobhie Naeem Al-Assal, who have been missing since 24 March. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) warned Syrian Facebook users on 5 May that fake security certificates, probably planted by Syria’s telecommunications ministry, are being used to trick them into logging on to what they think are securely encrypted Facebook pages. If they do, their personal data can be stolen and their communications can be monitored. The fake security certificates cause warnings to pop up in browsers, but people tend to ignore them because they think they are caused by routine technical problems. Although the trap is not very sophisticated, the EFF urged Syrian Facebook users to use proxy connections to access Facebook, or to login via Tor. The EFF subsequently reported that Syrian ISPs were blocking access to Tor. Another option is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The New York Times has reported difficulties using satellite phones in Syria.
BAHRAINThe human rights situation and the problems for those who defend media freedom continue to be extremely worrying in Bahrain. Several journalists have been summoned for questioning including Issa Ebrahim, a photographer for the daily Al-Wasat, who was detained and interrogated for several hours on 5 May. The following are still detained:
- Al-Bilad editor Jasem Al-Sabbagh, held since 26 April.
- Al-Watan sports reporter Abdullah Ashur, held since 13 April.
- Al-Bilad sports reporter Abdullah Alawi, who was arrested in April.
The Bahraini news agency reported that the trial of 21 people accused of belonging to terrorist organizations and trying to overthrow the government began before a military court on 8 May. The defendants include several human rights activists and the bloggers Abdul Jalil Al-Singace and Ali Abdulemam. After the trial opened, it was adjourned until 12 May. The head of the pro-democracy and civil liberties movement Al Haq, Singace was rearrested on 16 March after being held from September to February. He was previously arrested in 2009 for allegedly trying to destabilize the government because he used his blog (http://alsingace.katib.org) to denounce the deplorable state of civil liberties and discrimination against Bahrain’s Shiite population. Abdulemam, who is being tried in absentia, is regarded by fellow Bahrainis as one of his country’s Internet pioneers and is an active member of Bahrain Online, a pro-democracy forum that gets more than 100,000 visitors a day despite being blocked within Bahrain. A contributor to the international bloggers network Global Voices, he has taken part in many international conferences at which he has denounced human rights violations in Bahrain. He was also detained from September to February but avoided being rearrested. Abbas Al-Omran, a human rights activist who obtained refugee status in Britain a few years ago, has also been put on the list of wanted persons. A member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, he provides the international media with information about human rights violations in Bahrain. Mujtaba Salmat, a blogger and photographer who was arrested on 17 March for covering the anti-government demonstrations in Manama’s Pearl Square and posting the photos on Facebook, was released on 27 April. The opposition newspaper Al-Wasat announced in its 8 May issue, previously billed as the last issue, that its board had reversed its decision to close and intended to continue publishing. Closed by the information ministry on 3 May for allegedly disseminating false information that undermined the country’s international image and reputation, it was allowed to resume publishing the next day but three of its most senior journalists – editor Mansour Al-Jamari, managing editor Walid Nouihid and local news editor Aqil Mirza – were forced to resign. Several of its journalists were also arrested.