State of Journalism in The Arab World
In the Arab world, you are lucky if you were a singer, actor or a football player, but you are destined to counter beating, humiliation , and even death if you choose to be a journalist. This is simply the state of journalism affairs in the Arab world.
Recently the report on the freedom of press in the Arab world was released by the Arab Journalists Union, synchronizing with three Egyptian journalists being brought to trial before the Criminal Court on charges of publishing a “black list” of judges who were implicated in rigging the recent parliament election. The three journalists are Wael el Ebrashi, the executive chief editor of the Egyptian Sawtul Umma (Voice of the Nation), Huda Abu Bakr, a journalist in the same paper, and Abdul Hakim el Shamy, the board chairman of Afaq Arabia newspaper (Arab Horizons)
According to the report, journalism in the Arab world has witnessed unprecedented events which constituted a major setback for the state of freedom of the press the in recent history. Such events included, but not limited to;
1- Assassination of journalists
2- Physical abuse and assault
6-Closing newspapers and restricting personal freedom
1-Assassination of journalists
The report estimated that 25 journalists were killed including 22 in Iraq, 2 in Lebanon and 1 in Libya. Among them were Tarek Ayoub of al Jazeera and Atwar Bahgat of al Arabia. The most heinous of these crimes was the assassination of Lebanese journalist Samir Kossair and media man Gobran Tweeny, in addition to the failed attempt to kill Mai Shediak, a famous TV show host, which caused the amputation of her hand and leg.
2-Phsyical abuse and assault
In Egypt, a report issued by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) included incidents of assaults on male and female journalists at the premises of the Press Syndicate, the Bar Association and Saad Zaghloul sqaure on May 25, 2005, while covering the Kefaya movement demonstrations calling for boycotting referendum on the amendment of article 76 of the Constitution. The report cited in particular the sexual assaults on female journalists, such as Abeer el Askary and Shaima Abul Khair, by some NDP female thugs.
Victims of abuse received direct threats against their lives and their families of trumped up charges and detaintions, or being fired from their jobs, after these victims filed reports to the Attorney General.
The report also included incidents of assaults throughout the year 2004, on journalists in their work places as with the case of Mr. Abdul Halim Kandeel, the executive chief editor of Al Arabi newspaper who was abducted and assaulted for his writings, according to what Mr. Kandeel said in his statements during the investigations.
On November 10, 2005, Mr. Ahmed Mansour of Al Jazeera, a well known media figure and host of several TV shows, was beaten while standing near the Al Jazeera office in Cairo.
These violations occurred despite the fact that Article Six of the Press Law No. 96 for 1996, stipulates that “Journalists are independent with no restrictions imposed on them within the context of the law” Article Seven of the same law provides that “No harm to be done to any journalist regardless of the information published, nor to be forced to reveal the source of any information they obtain”
This was not the first time journalists were subject to assaults and beatings and even killing threats. In August 1995 Al Wafd chief editor Gamal Badawi was severely beaten by an unknown person, and journalist Mohammed Abdul Koddoos also sustained a similar attack on June 21st 1995 after the two men announced their opposing attitude toward Law 93 of 1995.
These incidents were preceded by harassments of members of the opposition in 1988, foremost among whom Mostafa Sherdy (deceased) , Ayman Nour the then journalist with al Wafd, and Abdul Azeem Manaf the former chief editor of Sawt el Arab newspaper.
In Tunisia, Christopher Polanski, journalist with Liberation newspaper, was beaten by four persons days ahead of the Information Summit .
In Yemen, secretary general of the Center of Rehabilitation and Protecting Press Freedom, Mr. Mohammed Sadek el Adeeny was beaten twice in one week, and the Yemeni weekly Al Wassat magazine Gamal Amr said that he was abducted and assaulted in Sana’a by also unknown persons who questioned him on the sources of information he published.
In Syria, authorities detained Syrian academician and journalist Hussein el Owaidat, director of Dar el Ahali Publishing House who is also in charge of the freedom monitoring bureau, part of the Press Syndicate, along with seven members of the board of directors of al Atasy forum, ten days after the detention of journalist Ali Al Abdullah the Atassi forum board chairman.
This part includes some of the cases where journalists were summoned to appear before the general prosecution to be interrogated because of their writings. Among these journalists are Adel Hammouda, Karam Gabr, Mohammed Abdul Latif, Wael el Ebrashi-executive chief editor of the Egyptian Sawtul Arab newspaper- Huda Abu Bakr in the same newspaper, and Abdul Hakim el Shami, director of the Afaq Arabia editorial staff.
These summons are usually followed by the journalists being referred to criminal court, and mostly end up with convictions. Although the investigations conducted now in publication cases are not followed by placing journalists in custody as was the case before, a decision which was rescinded with the passage of Law 96 for 1996, these investigations are vehicle for scaring journalists and intimidating them.
There are still law suits being filed against journalists for their writings, some of these cases are still in court.
The case filed by former minister of agriculture Dr. Yousuf Wali against Mr. Magdy Ahmed Hussein, Al Shaab chief editor published now on the internet, in which the latter accused Hussein of name callings and libel. The case remained in court from February 2004 until July 2005, when the Cairo Criminal Court acquitted Mr. Hussain
There are other cases where journalists were sentenced to two years in prison and fined, as with the case of Mr. Ahmed Ezz el Din, Shakeek el Taher, Fayez Zedan and Abdul Nasser Ali. Among these cases is also Mr. Taysseer Aloony, al Jazeera correspondent who was sentenced to seven years in prison by Spanish court on charges of collaboration with what the court called a “terrorist organization” although he was acquitted of belonging to Al Qaeda. Law experts consideredthe sentence not proportional to the crime of which Aloony was condemned .
In Palestine, the Israeli Occupation Forces detained Mr. Awad el Rajoob, al Jazeera.net correspondent, and his colleague Mr. Nezar Ramadan. In addition, Mr. Samy el Haj, al Jazeera cameraman, is still detained in Guantanamo Bay prison for the fourth year without a trial or a specific charge, according to his lawyers.
In Libya, authorities detained writer Abdul Razek Abdul Wanees al Mansoury January 12, 2006
Journalist Reda Helal, former deputy chief editor of al Ahram newspaper, disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and investigation into his disappearance have not yet been made public. Mr. Hilal ’s family filed a complaint of his disappearance at Sayeda Zainab police station on Monday August 11, 2003.
6- Closing down newspapers
In Egypt, al Shaab newspaper, mouthpiece of Labor party which activities are frozen after its continued criticism of the Egyptian government, was shut down as well as the pro-Ikhwan Afaq Arabia newspaper which is owned by Libertarians’ party .
December 2005, a Kuwaiti court issued an preliminary ruling to shut down daily al Watan for a week and a two month sentence against both chief editor sheikh Khalifa al Anaby al Sabbah and contributor Ahmed el Koos who was condemned of writing an article offending another writer, Ahmed el Baghdady
The same year witnessed another incident when the European Union Censorship officials issued a decision banning Hizbullah – affiliated Manar satellite channel from transmitting via European satellites. Around the same time, Iranian authorities suspended the activities of the al Jazeera bureau in Tehran because of recent developments of the predominantly Arab region of Khuzestan.
In Egypt, a decision banning a veiled TV anchor from appearing on Channel 5 raised a great controversy especially that a judicial ruling was issued rescinding a past decision which banned veiled form appearing on TV.
In Jordan, TV announcer Nof el Tameemy filed a lawsuit against the Radio &Television Union for transferring her to the Radio section due to her wearing a veil (traditional head scarf for women).
Journalists: freedom of the press witnesses a dramatic decline
For his part, chief editor of al Osboo (the Week) and Member of Parliament, Mr. Mostafa Bakry, said “The press is still witnessing a crisis, as the imprisonment of journalists is still occurring, and the referral of three journalists to the criminal court, as well as other cases still before judiciary”
Bakry pointed out that the press awaits a government law rescinding the law of imprisonment of journalists, which if passed, would act as a step forward toward freedom of the press.
However, Bakry cautioned that the law above mentioned will rescind imprisonment while toughening financial fines, which will amount to imprisonment of journalists and gagging the press .
Baskry called on the government to work to boost the freedom of press and publication with every journalist having the right to issue a newspaper as long as he/she adheres to the governing law. He also called for free access to information, considering it to be one of the most complicated problems facing the press, with some agencies denying journalists access to information
Hussein abdul Ghani, Al Jezeera Cairo’s bureau chief, said “freedom of the press in Egypt has witnessed a serious setback in recent period” he added “The gains recently obtained by journalists and media in general didn’t last long before we are back to square one, now that we have seen journalists arrested from their work places, as is the case with me (he was arrested while he was covering the recent repercussions of Dahab bombings) as well as referring journalists to the criminal court, and so forth”
Abdul Ghani pointed out that the future of the freedom of the press is dependent on the political and constitutional reform, adding”if the reform advocates make progress, this surely will reflect on the freedom of the press and the media action in general”
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