Anyone who dares to speak out continues to be exposed to arbitrary arrest.
One of the latest victims is Omar Koush, a writer and journalist from Aleppo, was arrested on arrival at Damascus airport today after participating in a conference in Turkey. He wrote an article on 29 April entitled “Turkey: dual relations between Arab countries on the one hand and Islamist organizations on the other.”
Al-Jazeera announced in a statement today that it has lost contact with one of its journalists, Dorothy Parvaz, since her arrival in Damascus on 29 April aboard a Qatar Airways flight, and asked the authorities to say what had happened to her. “We are very concerned for Dorothy’s safety,” an Al-Jazeera spokesman said. “We request the full cooperation of the Syrian authorities in determining what happened to her at the airport, where she is now, and what her state of health is. We want her returned to Al-Jazeera safely at once.”
A journalist with Canadian and Iranian dual citizenship, Parvez, 39, has worked for Al-Jazeera since 2010.
Al-Jazeera announced on 27 April that it was suspending all activities throughout Syria until further notice because of the many threats and acts of intimidation against its crews. Its Syrian employees have repeatedly been threatened by the authorities, and stones and eggs were thrown at its offices on 24, 25 and 26 April. Around 100 people gathered outside its Damascus bureau on 30 April, accusing it of “lying” and “exaggerating” in its coverage of the anti-government protests that began in mid-March.
Firas Fayyad, a 27-year-old Facebook activist and film director who studied filmmaking in France, was kidnapped from an Internet café on 30 April. His latest film, “Damascus,” is about contemporary Syria and the Arab world’s political problems.
His arrest is the latest in a long list of abuses against journalists that has included obstruction, physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and the deportation of foreign news agency and newspaper correspondents. It has become impossible for journalists to do their job in Syria and cover the current protests.
The Syrian regime has also launched a wave of arrests of political activists. Human rights lawyer Hassan Ismail Abdel Azim, 81, was arrested at his office yesterday. Writer and opposition activist Hazem Nahar was arrested on 28 April. In response to the violent crackdown on protests, the UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution calling for a fact-finding mission to be sent to Syria to identify those responsible for the human rights violations.
The following are still detained:
- Fayez Sara, a journalist and writer who was arrested on 11 April,
- Khaled Sid Mohand, an Algerian journalist working for Le Monde (and a regular contributor to Radio France) who was arrested on 9 April (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_149193425148628 and the petition),
- Mohamed Zaid Mistou, a Norwegian journalist of Syrian origin, who was arrested on 7 April,
- Kamal Sheikhou, a blogger who was arrested on 15 March.
There has been no news of the journalists Akram Abu Safi and Sobhie Naeem Al-Assal since 24 March.
The Saudi government issued a decree on 29 April imposing new restrictions on the media and drastically limiting press freedom. The decree, which amends five articles of the 2000 press and publications law, is clearly designed to ensure that the protests sweeping the Arab world since the start of the year do not take any greater hold in Saudi Arabia than they have already.
The decree bans publication of any material that “contradicts Islamic Sharia law,” “serves foreign interests” or “undermines national security.” It also requires journalists to restrict themselves to criticism that is “objective and constructive” and “in the public interest.”
Anyone contravening the new regulations can be fined of up to 500,000 riyals (around 90,000 euros) and banned from writing for the media for life.
The decree’s vague wording leaves a lot of room for arbitrary enforcement. Reporters Without Borders calls for it to be rescinded at once.
Nazir Al-Majid, a writer who was arrested on 17 April for participating in demonstrations in the eastern city of Khobar, has meanwhile been suspended from his post as teacher in a local state school. Security agents searched his home and confiscated his computer when they arrested him. He posted an article entitled “I protest, therefore I am a human being” last month on the Rashid.com, news website.
Two Shiite bloggers who were very active online – Mustafa Badr Al-Mubarak, 26, and Hossein Kathem Al-Hashem, a 25-year-old student – were arrested in the past few days in the eastern governorate of Al-Qatif and are being held in a police station in the town of Safwa. Their computers were confiscated.
According to information obtained by the NGO Front Line (http://abna.ir/data.asp?lang=3&id=239450), Sheikh Mekhlef bin Dahham Al-Shammari, a writer and social reformer who has been held without trial since 15 June 2010, could be tried before a state security court, possibly on the terrorism charge that was brought against him when he was arrested in 2007.
Al-Shammari has been arrested several times in recent years because of his close contacts with representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority.
Ever since the start of the unrest in the Arab world and, in particular, the protests in neighbouring Bahrain, Riyadh has been taking all sorts of measures to forestall their spread to Saudi Arabia. The authorities have blocked access to websites calling for reform in Saudi Arabia that emerged after the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt (http://dawlaty.info/ and http://www.saudireform.com/). They have blocked the “Revolutionary Nostalgia” Facebook page that is calling for reforms. A BBC crew was prevented from covering the unrest in the eastern city of Hufuf in March. And a Reuters correspondent’s accreditation was withdrawn on 15 March for alleged inaccuracies in a report on a demonstration.
Saudi Arabia is ranked 157th out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Ali Ghamdan, a Yemeni journalist who works at Al-Jazeera headquarters in the Qatari capital of Doha, was arrested by security agents on arrival at Sanaa airport on 30 April to visit his family. His arrest seems to be part of a government campaign to intimidate the media, in which Al-Jazeera’s bureau in Sanaa has been attacked and its journalists have had their accreditation withdrawn. Al-Jazeera announced the closure of its Sanaa bureau on 25 March.
Wahib Al-Nasari, a journalist who works for the Sanaa bureau of the Emirati daily Al-Khalij, was attacked by government supporters on 29 April after covering the very large demonstration following Friday prayers.
Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to free Ghamdan and to stop their harassment of media that cover protests. This has included arrests of journalists, physical attacks, deportation of foreign journalists and seizures of newspapers.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the blocking of access to the online forum Al-Harah Al-Omania by local telecom operators Omantel and Nawras.
Officially, the website is accused of breaking the law, but the blocking follows a refusal by the site’s administrators to provide the authorities with the personal data of certain users. Last week, the committee in charge of combating new technology crimes, an offshoot of the prosecutor’s office, said it would prosecute the site’s management for refusing to cooperate.
In a statement yesterday, the site’s management said the forum anyway did not have the technical ability to identify a participant as its server did not keep the IP addresses of participants in its database. The decision to block access to the forum was arbitrary and unjustified, the statement added.
The site had also posted videos and articles about the demonstrations taken place in Oman. Users said they would launch a new site if the blocking was not lifted. The forum was one of the sultanate’s five most popular websites. Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities to stop blocking the forum and to drop all plans to prosecute its management.
Reporters Without Borders has learned that the journalist Ahmed Al-Shezawi was fired by the newspaper Al-Shabiba for taking part in a sit-in. He had been arrested on 29 March at his home in Muscat because he joined political and human rights activists in demonstrating in the northern city of Sohar and was released on 10 April.
According to Amnesty International, Shezawi was kept in solitary confinement at an unknown location, constantly subjected to loud music and questioned about his links with foreign organizations such as BBC. He learned that he had been fired when he returned to the newspaper, which had not reported his arrest in either its print or online version.
“We condemn the Omani government’s policy of trying to intimidate all journalists who express views contrary to its own,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Reporters Without Borders has interviewed a foreign journalist about the difficulties of working in Bahrain and the red lines that cannot be crossed. He asked not to be identified.
“Shortly after arriving at our hotel, the authorities told us we could not go out without an escort provided by the information ministry,” he said. “We have to accept. We very quickly realized that we would not be able to film or cover any of the subjects we had wanted to cover. The escort told us what we could do and who we could interview.”
The detained journalists James Foley, a freelancer working for GlobalPost.com, and Manu Brabo, a Spanish photographer, were allowed to contact their families on 23 April. They have been detained together since their arrest on 5 April. Clare Morgana Gillis, a US reporter for The Atlantic magazine’s website, who was moved to a women’s prison in Tripoli after being arrested at the same time as the other two, was allowed to contact her family on 21 and 26 April. They all reassured their families about their health and the conditions in which they are being held.
Gillis told her family that Anton Lazarus Hammerl, a photographer with South African and Austrian dual nationality who disappeared on the day of their arrest, had not been with them when they were arrested. The Austrian foreign ministry has said Hammerl is alive and that it is negotiating his release with the Libyan government.
Two other journalists are still detained. They are Kamel Ataloua of Al-Jazeera, who has been held since the start of March, and Lotfi Ghars, a journalist with Tunisian and Canadian dual nationality working for Al-Alam TV, who has been held since 16 March. American freelancer Matthew VanDyke has been missing since 12 March.
The Transitional National Council in Benghazi has said that six Libyan journalists are currently held by the forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.
Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate release of all these journalists.