Attacks on Journalists and the Press in Muslim Countries

Posted on January 30, 2007

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Press Censorship

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists. 

Being a journalist in a Muslim country is one of the most perilous jobs at this time.  In comparison to the USA where freedom of the press is relatively untampered with (see video at the end of this article), critiquing the status quo or those in power in Muslim countries can lead to dire consequences, including physical assault, abduction, torture and death. 

This inability of Muslim leaders to tolerate negative feedback or even dissent is a departure from  the tenets and practice of Islam. Once a person stood up in a public meeting and told `Umar, the second caliph in Islamic history and companion of the Prophet Muhammad (s), to fear [and respect] Allah. The audience tried to stop him, but ‘Umar (r) said: “Let him speak. He is free to give his opinion. If people do not give their opinions they are useless, and if we (the rulers) do not listen to them we are useless.” On another occasion, `Umar (r) said: “May God have mercy upon anyone who points out my faults to me.”

Instead of trying to repress the press and to gag journalists, these Muslim leaders should realize that negative feedback is a signal that whatever they are doing is not working or may actually be against the best interests of their countrymen. In a hadith (no. 2942) reported in Sunan Abu Dawud by Abu Maryam al-Azdi, the Prophet (s) said, If Allah puts anyone in the position of authority over the Muslims’ affairs and he secludes himself (from them), not fulfilling their needs, wants, and poverty, Allah will keep Himself away from him, not fulfilling his need, want, and poverty.Compare the open-mindedness and transparency enjoined by Islam with the current status of journalists and the press in a few Muslim countries:

ALGERIA

BenchicouAuthorities use the law to harass the private press, with the help of a penal code that makes it a crime to defame the president, the judiciary, Parliament, and the military. After his re-election in 2004, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, together with his political and business allies, filed numerous legal complaints against private newspapers criticizing the government. There are now many criminal defamation cases against the press in Algiers courtrooms. In an ironic twist, Mohamed Benchicou (pictured here), former publisher of  Le Matin, was jailed on charges of violating currency laws, but many are convinced that these charges were brought in response to Le Matin‘s criticism of Bouteflika and his state ministers.  For more on Algeria, please click here

BANGLADESH

New regulations enacted by the Bangladeshi interim government limit news reporting drastically. The Emergency Powers Rules of 2007 restrict press coverage of political news, and impose penalties of up to five years in prison on violators. The Emergency Powers Rules cover a whole range of political activities, and allow the government to ban or censor print and broadcast news about rallies and other political activities that it considers “provocative or harmful”.

EGYPT
Press freedom was at an all time low in 2005. President Hosni Mubarak did not keep his 2004 promise to introduce legislation decriminalizing press offenses. A criminal court gave jail terms to three journalists for defaming a minister. Security forces and goons are believed to have been hired by the ruling party to attack reporters covering antigovernment protests and parliamentary elections. In April, a Cairo criminal court sentenced three journalists with the Cairo daily Al Masry al-Youm to one year in prison following an article about searches at the housing minister’s office and his suspension. Protesters demanded that Mubarak step down and accused him of paving the way for his son Gamal to succeed him. Journalists said that they were assaulted by the assailants, and that Egyptian security forces did not intervene. The journalists suspected that some of the assailants were actually plainclothes security agents, although they believed the majority were thugs hired by the ruling National Democratic Party.  For more on Egypt, please click here.


Video Description: Egyptian Police Brutality during 2005 elections.

IRAN

SaminejabIranian authorities have gone after the independent media in general and on Internet journalists in particular. Authorities jailed Web bloggers, banned four newspapers for publishing a letter by a reformist cleric, and closed the Tehran bureau of Al-Jazeera. All the bloggers arrested in a 2004 crackdown were released except for Mojtaba Saminejad (pictured here).  He was sentenced in June 2005 to two years in prison and denied appeal. Many of the released bloggers said they were tortured in jail.  For more on Iran, please click here.  

IRAQ

Castro and SilvaIraq is a very dangerous place for journalists. Journalist murders, deaths in crossfire, abductions, and detentions abound. 22 journalists and three media workers were killed in action in 2005. Overall, a total to 60 journalists and 22 media support staff have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003. Unfortunately, it has been also alleged that US troops arrested, beat, and deprived at least two journalists, Luis Castro and Victo Silva, of food and water for four days. Their equipment, vehicle and video tapes were also confiscated. Their whole story can be read here. For more on Iraq, please click here.

KUWAIT

In January, Adel Aidan, a correspondent for Al-Arabiya, was arrested by authorities shortly after the station broadcasted a  report of clashes between Kuwaiti government forces and militants. According to Aidan’s lawyer, the journalist was charged with “reporting false news that undermines the country’s position internally and abroad.” Aidan was released four days later.  In February, during a meeting with Kuwaiti newspaper editors, Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah threatened either to suspend or to shut down any newspaper that publishes information related to the government’s fight against religious extremists. For more on Kuwait, Libya, and Mauritania, please click here.

LEBANON

Video Description: This TV ad was produced in the middle-east in November 2006, in commemoration of Gebran Tueni, former publisher of Lebanese daily newspaper An-Nahar, that was assassinated in a car bomb on the 12th of December 2005, and promotes freedom of speech and the power of media.

MALAYSIA

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Malaysian government’s interference with Ai FM’s radio program  for  airing listeners’ views about a controversial government order that affected Chinese-language schools. The program’s main host, Wan Piao Ming, was replaced on July 3 without explanation and the program was re-launched with a focus on less controversial topics such as business and relationship advice. For more on Malaysia, please click here.

PAKISTAN

9 journalists (including Hayatullah Khan in 2006 and pictured here) have died since 2002, and  at least 20 other journalists have been assaulted or improperly detained. In recent months, the shooting deaths of two journalists apparently went uninvestigated by the government, and the teenage brother of a BBC reporter was shot after the family’s home was bombed in December of last year. In addition, five men have disappeared, two of whom showed up more than three months in secret government detention and were then charged. The other three are still missing as of September 21, 2006. For more on Pakistan, please click here.

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi newspapers now publish news accounts that could not have been made public five years ago. Stories on crime, drug trafficking, and the security forces’ battles with armed extremists are now common. But coverage of  key political issues such as the actions of the royal family, the influence of the religious establishment, and government corruption are off limits. “Criticism goes always to the lower end of the [ladder], especially if the official has power,” noted one Saudi academic who was once banned from writing in the press because of his political criticisms. “And if the official is a prince, it means [that] he never makes mistakes. Have you ever heard or read anything public criticizing the ministry of [the] interior?… The same thing applies to the ministry of defense and ministry of foreign affairs,” he told CPJ. For more on Saudi Arabia, please click here.

TUNISIA

Sihem BensedrinePresident Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali’s 18-year-old administration continues to harass the private press and stopped the journalists’ union from holding its first conference. In the past, journalists have been assaulted. In 2000, several police officers beat journalists Sihem Bensedrine and Mohammed Bechri. At the same time, Omar Mestiri was thrown to the ground and repeatedly beaten by other police officers, who then drove him some sixty kilometres from Tunis and left him in the countryside. A few hours before the attack, Sihem Bensedrine found that her car had been searched. She found a knife in the back seat of her car, which she believes was left as a death threat. Three journalists started hunger strikes in 2005, two of them to protest their detention.  Three fact-finding missions done in January, May, and September by the Tunisian Monitoring Group determined that attacks on freedom of expression and association and the media “have escalated since January 2005.” For more on Tunisia, please click here.

 

TURKEY

Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian newspaper Agos, was murdered recently. Please see video about Hrant Dink below.

 

Now please watch the video below, “The President of the US owes this country an apology” and compare:

Issue for us to ponder on: Which Muslim country nowadays would have allowed a TV commentator to address its president or ruler in this manner without severe adverse consequences to him and/or his family?

  1. To find out about the number of journalists killed in 2006 alone, please click here.
  2. To find out about the number of journalists in prison as of December 2006, please click here.
  3. To download the english version (size 6 megabytes) of the Media Sustainability Index (MSI) – Middle East & North Africa (MENA), please click here.
  4. To download the arabic version (size 12 megabytes) of the Media Sustainability Index (MSI) – Middle East & North Africa (MENA), please click here.
  5. To download the 2007 English version of the country specific state of the press reports  from Reporters sans frontieres in the Middle East and other regions around the world, please click here.
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