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Journalists continue to be harassed in different ways throughout Middle East

Anti-Syrian government protesters flash V sign as they protest in the southern city of Deraa, Syria, Wednesday March 23, 2011. Syrian security forces shot live ammunition and tear gas near a mosque where protesters have been camped out in southern Syria, killing six people including a paramedic.

Reuters television producer Ayat Basma and cameraman Ezzat Baltaji were released on March 28 after being held for two days but Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has meanwhile learnt that two other journalists were arrested on March 27.

The London-based Syrian Human Rights Monitoring Centre identified them as Doha Hassan, who works for Orient TV and several websites, and Zaher Omareen. RSF has been told they are being held at the General Directorate for State Security in Damascus.

Reuters announced on March 28 that Basma and Baltaji were in good health and back in Lebanon, their country of origin, after being held by the Syrian authorities for two days. A Syrian official said they were arrested because they did not have work permits and were filming in an area where no filming was allowed. As previously reported, the Syrian authorities have also withdrawn the accreditation of the Reuters correspondent in Damascus, Khaled Ya’qoub Oweis, accusing him of filing “unprofessional and false” reports, and have banned the media from visiting the southern city of Deraa.

Ten Jordanian journalists were physically attacked when the security forces used batons and tear-gas to clear the camp that the young protesters of the “24 March Movement” had established in Amman’s Abdel Nasser Square (also known as Dakhliyeh Circle):

  • Firas Nassan, the editor of the newspaper Al-Ghad’s website, was injured when his ankle was hit by a stone and had to be taken to hospital.
  • Aziza Ali, a female journalist who works for Al-Ghad’s arts and culture section, also had to be hospitalised.
  • The photographer Saher Guidara suffered an injury to a foot from by stones thrown by thugs. He said he was surprised by “stones raining from the sky.”
  • The head of Al-Ghad’s photo department, Mohammed Abu Ghosh, and the Chinese agency Xinhua’s photographer, Numan Al-Qazaa, were prevented from filming and were threatened with being beaten.
  • Thugs armed with sticks attacked the photographer Mohammed Hanoun and a cameraman working for the satellite TV station Al-Quds.
  • A Reuters photographer was attacked by members of the security forces.
  • The regional director of the satellite TV station Al-Arabiya, Saad Silawi, was attacked by members of the security forces as he was covering their use of force to disperse the protesters. His video camera was broken.
  • His colleague, Ghassan Abou Louz, was prevented from filming.

Nidal Mansour, the head of the Centre for Defending the Freedom of Journalists, issued a statement condemning the government’s silence about the attacks on demonstrators and journalists and the scenes of violence that had taken place in full view of the media’s cameras.

Two programmes hosted by the journalist Salim Al-Amri on state-owned Oman Radio – “Li-Kul Maqaal Maqaal” and “‘Anayen Faniya” – have been suspended by the authorities. Al-Amri said he received a letter from the information ministry telling him to stay at home. No reason was given. In an interview for Muscat Daily on March 28, he linked the suspension to his refusal three weeks before to interview Hussein Hamoud Al Abry, a doctor working for the health ministry, about protests in the Sohar region because he was told not to ask certain questions. Another reason he gave was his participation in a demonstration outside the information ministry on 8 and 9 March calling for media freedom.

Despite the information ministry’s denials, journalists and intellectuals have begun circulating a petition condemning the information ministry’s decision and other free speech violations and calling for the resumption of Al-Amri’s programmes and respect for the right to protest.

Mohammed Maher Abdul Nabi, the correspondent of radio Sawt Al-Quds, was theatened by members of the security forces on March 27 for reporting on the air that doctors at Kamal Adwan Hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip had been negligent after an Israeli raid.

Reporting live from the hospital, Nabi said that the relatives of victims and journalists were at the Beit Lahiya morgue when someone noticed that one of the supposedly fatal victims was still alive. This victim was rushed back to another wing of the hospital where he died 30 minutes later. Nabi interviewed a relative accusing the doctors of negligence.

Six plainclothes policemen accosted Nabi and asked him to accompany them to the health ministry. When he refused, they forcibly escorted him to a room in the hospital where the director threatened to file a complaint if did not retract the story.

New York Times reporter Robert Worth was denied entry on March 25. Worth, who had come to cover the anti-government demonstrations that have been rocking the country since mid-February, was detained at Sana'a international airport for about 12 hours and then put on a flight to Dubai.

The Qatar-based satellite TV station Al-Jazeera announced the closure of its Sana'a bureau on March 25 following the withdrawal of all of its journalists’ accreditation. Two days before the announcement, an Al-Jazeera cameraman was attacked by soldiers while covering a sit-in in Taiz province and had to be hospitalised with a fractured hand.

As already reported, Al-Jazeera’s Sana'a bureau was attacked at dawn on March 22 by around 20 gunmen who ransacked its equipment. Three days before that, two of its correspondents, Ahmed Zidan and Abdulhaq Saddah, were expelled on the ground that they were “working illegally in Yemen” and “inciting violence.”

RSF continues to be concerned about four Al-Jazeera journalists – Mauritanian reporter Ahmed Vall Ould el-Dine, Tunisian reporter Lotfi Messaoudi, Norwegian photographer Ammar Al-Hamdane and British photographer Kamel Ataloua – who are still held by the Libyan authorities, despite their promises to release them.

The organisation is nonetheless relieved to learn that Tunisian journalist Fatma Ben Dhaou of the newspaper Le Quotidien is back in contact with her editors and relatives.

There has been no news of the blogger Ali Abdulemam since March 16 when around 40 gunmen raided his sister’s home, where he had been holed up since the arrests of several government opponents. His niece has described the incident on Facebook. Since then, his Twitter blog has been silent, aside from a message saying he was turning off his mobile phone, “which isn’t like him,” relatives say. He was released under a royal pardon on 23 February after several months in prison.

Fellow blogger Abduljalil Al-Singace, who was also one of the government opponents freed in February, did not escape the wave of arrests on March 16. He has not been allowed to contact his family since his arrest. As he was tortured during his previous spell in prison, RSF is concerned at the possibility that he is being mistreated again.

The blogger and human rights activist Sayid Yousif Al-Muhafdah has also been missing since March 19, when the authorities arrested two activists and four doctors in a series of nighttime raids. The police have threatened his family, telling them they will return every night if he does not report to the police station.

RSF called for an immediate halt to the harassment of Bahraini Internet users and for the release of bloggers who are being held in violation of the right to free expression.

Date posted: March 31, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 133