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Middle East & North Africa

2011

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New York, February 15, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentencing of blogger Tal al-Mallohi on Monday to five years in prison on state security charges and calls on Syrian authorities to release her immediately. Al-Mallohi, 20, was detained in 2009 and held in extrajudicial detention for close to a year, according to news reports and local press freedom groups.

Suppression Under the Cover of National Security

A police trooper stands guard on a police vehicle outside a state security court in Sanaa, Yemen. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

By Mohamed Abdel Dayem

Relying on an extensive network of sources in the military, government, and Islamist groups, Yemeni freelance journalist Abdulelah Shaea had become a frequent and pointed critic of the administration's counterterrorism efforts. By July, President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government had enough, dispatching security agents to seize and roughly interrogate Shaea for several hours about his reporting.

Top Developments
• Government blocks satellite TV, news texting ahead of parliamentary vote.
• Political maneuvering seen as critical editor sacked, another jailed.

Key Statistic
12: Satellite television stations taken off the air one month before the election.


Back in 2005, reporters exposed widespread ballot fraud and voter intimidation during the country's first multi-party presidential election. Determined to avoid a repeat of such coverage during the November parliamentary elections, the government blocked satellite television, clamped down on news dissemination techniques, and orchestrated the silencing of critical voices. The ruling National Democratic Party swept the voting amid widespread reports of fraud.

Top Developments
• Authorities sustain their crack- down on critical journalists, arresting dozens.
• Journalists face harsh prison terms and mistreatment in custody.

Key Statistic
34: Journalists imprisoned on December 1. Along with China, Iran is the world's worst jailer of the press.


Defying international condemnation, the government sustained its widespread crackdown on the press, prosecuting journalists arrested in the aftermath of the disputed June 2009 presidential election and detaining additional critical reporters and editors throughout 2010. More than 100 journalists in all had been detained at various times since the crackdown began, CPJ research showed, a campaign of intimidation unparalleled worldwide in more than a decade. The repression came at a time of great global significance that included disputes over Iran's nuclear program and tightening international sanctions.

Top Developments
• New press court, politically motivated lawsuits raise alarm.
• As instability festers, five journalists, three support workers are killed.

Key Statistic
$1 billion Damages sought by the Kurdistan Democratic Party from a newspaper that detailed alleged political corruption.


Instability festered throughout the year as political parties wrangled to form a new government after March elections and U.S. troops handed over security to Iraqi forces in August. At least five journalists and three media support workers were killed in relation to their work, reflecting a persistent level of insecurity. Government forces were holding a critical newspaper editor without apparent charge or due process.

Top Developments
• In West Bank, Gaza, journalists face obstruction from all sides.
• Israeli fire kills Lebanese reporter during border clash.

Key Statistic
18: Journalists detained when Israeli forces raided a Gaza-bound aid convoy.


The press operated in a highly polarized environment as Israeli, Hamas, and Fatah officials, all intent on controlling international news coverage, subjected journalists to harassment, detentions, censorship, and severe restrictions on their movements. Tensions peaked in June, when Israeli troops stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, which was under an Israeli blockade, killing nine passengers and injuring dozens, detaining numerous accompanying reporters, and seizing journalistic material. Israeli authorities accused the organizers of the convoy of subterfuge, while pro-Palestinian activists attempted to use the episode to highlight what they viewed as repressive Israeli policies toward Gaza residents.

Top Developments
• Tensions rise, media polarized as U.N. special tribunal closes in on indictments.
• Technology bill includes several provisions that could restrict press freedom.

Key Statistic
0: Arrests made in the murders of two journalists and a bomb attack against a third journalist in 2005.


Political tensions grew sharply in late year as the U.N.-sponsored Special Tribunal for Lebanon drew closer to issuing indictments in the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. In November, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired a documentary--based on what it described as tribunal sources and documents--that said investigators had uncovered evidence against members of Hezbollah, the Shiite paramilitary and political group with ties to Iran and Syria. The potential for indictments against Hezbollah members raised fears of sectarian violence and the collapse of a coalition government in which Hezbollah held a strong minority bloc. In November, the tribunal revised its rules on staging trials in absentia, apparently reflecting concerns that it may be unable to secure the arrests of the named suspects.

Top Developments
• Government pressures advertisers, uses courts to punish critical media.
• Authorities obstruct Spanish and other foreign reporters in Western Sahara.

Key Statistic
2: Leading independent weeklies that closed under government pressure. A daily facing harassment moved online.


The government continued using the judiciary to settle scores with critical journalists and pressuring private advertisers to avoid probing publications, two hallmarks of its antagonistic approach to independent and opposition media. The tactics forced two leading independent weeklies to close and a critical daily newspaper to move online.

Top Developments
• Censorship intensifies before election; beatings, imprisonments reported.
• Authorities use surveillance, harassment, severe legal restrictions to control news.

Key Statistic
3: Rai al-Shaab journalists imprisoned, one of whom reported being tortured in custody.


Sudanese journalists faced a familiar, toxic combination of censorship, legalistic harassment, and intimidation as a potentially historic national election instead left ruling authorities further entrenched. Self-censorship was widespread among Sudan's beleaguered press, while security agents regularly prevented coverage of topics deemed sensitive, including Darfur, the International Criminal Court (ICC), human rights issues, official corruption, secessionism, and state censorship itself. Repression and political unrest continued after the election as attention turned to a planned 2011 national referendum that could result in full independence for South Sudan. Meanwhile, government restrictions continued to inhibit media coverage of the pressing humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

Top Developments
• Targeting journalists, government criminalizes contact with foreign organizations.
• Private broadcast licenses are controlled by Ben Ali's family and friends.

Key Statistic
5: Years of imprisonment for violations of new law barring contact with foreign groups.


Tunisia remained one of the region's most repressive nations even as it sought to project an image of liberalism and modernity. The government of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali jailed at least three journalists during the year, one of whom remained in custody when CPJ conducted its annual census of imprisoned journalists on December 1. Vague new legislation targeted critical journalists and human rights defenders by criminalizing international communications that the government deemed harmful to its interests.

2011

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