THE PRESS: 2010
• Main Index
Middle East and North Africa:
• Suppression Under the
Cover of National Security
• Israel and the Occupied
• Other nations
In September, police detained Lahcen Tigbadar and Mohamed Slimani, journalists for the Moroccan weekly Assahra Ousbouiya, according to news reports. They were held for four days in the southwestern town of Tindouf, where they had been reporting on the conditions faced by refugees from the Western Sahara, a territory in dispute between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front. After their release, the two journalists said Algerian authorities had wanted to prevent them from covering “the disastrous situation” in the Tindouf refugee camps, the official Moroccan news agency Maghreb Arabe Presse reported.
In May, the Ministry of Culture and Information ordered the Bahrain bureau of satellite news channel Al-Jazeera to halt operations “for having violated professional norms and for failing to observe laws and procedures regulating journalism, printing and publishing,” according to the official Bahrain News Agency. The decision came a day after Al-Jazeera aired a program about poverty in Bahrain. The day the ban was announced, authorities denied entry to an Al-Jazeera crew that had traveled to Bahrain to interview a former U.N. official about poverty in the country, according to news reports. The ban on bureau operations remained in effect in late year.
On August 27, Public Prosecutor Ali al-Buainain banned journalists from reporting on the detentions of dozens of opposition activists in a series of arrests that month. Among those detained were at least two bloggers: Abduljalil Alsingace, who had tracked human rights issues for the opposition Haq Movement of Civil Liberties and Democracy, and Ali Abdel Imam, the founder of the news website BahrainOnline. Both were standing trial in late year on charges of forming an illegal organization, engaging in terrorism, and spreading false information. They remained in custody along with numerous opposition activists.
The Court of Cassation, Jordan’s highest judicial authority, ruled in January that the government could extend the restrictive Press and Publications Law to news websites and other online media. The law allows authorities to impose fines or prison terms for material deemed insulting to religions or defamatory to the government, national unity, or the economy. Jordanian online outlets have typically reported more openly than other media, CPJ research shows.
Facing outcry from CPJ and others, the government backed off some of the most restrictive aspects of new legislation on cyber-crime. The initial version, approved by the cabinet of ministers in August, had included broad restrictions on material deemed defamatory or involving national security. The measure also allowed law enforcement officials to conduct warrantless searches of online outlets. By month’s end, in response to local and international pressure, the government removed provisions allowing warrantless searches, more precisely defined national interests, and deleted provisions that singled out online journalists for special regulation. The revised measure–which regulated a wide-ranging set of digital matters–was signed into law by King Abdullah II in September.
In January, the Ministry of Information proposed restrictive amendments to the press law and the audio-visual law. The amendments would set harsher penalties for slander and defamation and impose criminal penalties for speech that “threatened national unity.” The proposals would also double, to two years, the existing prison penalty for blasphemy. The amendments prompted an outcry from Kuwaiti journalists who issued a statement urging the government to reject the amendments. The law was pending in parliament in late year.
Mohammed Abdulqader al-Jassem, founding editor of the Arabic editions of Foreign Policy and Newsweek, was prosecuted twice during the year. In May, he was charged with “instigating to overthrow the regime,” “slight to the personage of the emir,” and acting to “dismantle the foundations of Kuwaiti society.” The charges stemmed from articles critical of the Kuwaiti government and the ruling al-Sabah family that were published on his personal website. A court in Kuwait City acquitted the journalist of all charges in September. Just two months later, however, al-Jassem had been arrested again, this time on defamation charges related to coverage of the prime minister. He was sentenced to three months in prison.
More than 150 assailants broke into the Kuwait City offices of the privately owned Scope TV in October, ransacking the premises and destroying equipment, according to news reports. Mohammed Talal al-Saeed, executive manager of Scope TV, told Reuters the assailants were armed with pistols and knives and that 10 people were injured. The attack occurred after the station aired a talk show that some found insulting to the Kuwaiti ruling family. Fajr al-Saeed, owner of Scope TV, told CPJ she started receiving death threats after the show aired. Station lawyer Faisal Ayal al-Anzai told CPJ that prosecutors summoned only two people for questioning in the attack. He said the station was able to resume broadcasting but damages were significant.
Mohamed al-Sarit, a correspondent for the Tripoli-based Mal wa Aamal magazine and Jeel Libya news website, suffered serious injuries after four unidentified assailants stabbed him on a Benghazi street in August. Al-Sarit was hospitalized with 33 stitches on his neck, back, and wrist, news reports said. The journalist told Radio Netherlands that he had been harassed by government agents after his article detailing poverty in the oil-rich nation was published online. One suspect was briefly detained but released.
In November, authorities arrested 20 journalists working for Libya Press, a news agency controlled by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, the news organization said. The arrests were seen as part of a long-standing power struggle within Libya’s ruling elite. The journalists were released without charge three days later at Muammar Qaddafi’s direction. The agency shut its Tripoli offices in December after concluding it could not protect staffers from “intensified security harassment,” according to a statement posted on its website.
The National Assembly passed legislation in July that could allow the country’s first private radio and television licenses to be issued. Licenses would be granted by the minister of information based on criteria to be set by the cabinet. Houssein Meddou, head of the Journalists’ Syndicate in Mauritania, said the legislation provides overly broad powers to the information minister. All domestic radio and TV are government-owned.
In May, Jamal Khashoggi resigned from his post as editor-in-chief of Al-Watan, one of the most progressive dailies in the kingdom. The journalist’s resignation came just days after the newspaper published a piece criticizing Salafism, a conservative school of Sunni Islam. Khashoggi said he was stepping down “to focus on personal projects,” but colleagues speaking to Agence France-Presse and the BBC said they believed that the decision was made because of high-level governmental pressure. Mahmoud Sabbagh, a columnist at Al-Watan, said, “There was a lot of pressure lately aimed at deterring the progressive stance of Al-Watan‘s opinion section.”
Fahd al-Jukhaidib, a reporter for the daily Al-Jazirah, was sentenced in October to two months in prison and 50 lashes for inciting the public to protest against a series of electric power reductions, according to news reports. In an article published in September 2008, al-Jukhaidib described frequent power cuts in Qubba in northern Saudi Arabia. The article also described a protest in front of the government-owned electricity company. Al-Jukhaidib was free on appeal in late year.
The Ministry of Culture and Information was preparing legislation that would regulate online publications, according to news reports. The measure would require online publications to register and obtain licenses from the ministry. The bill caused an outcry after initial news reports said that bloggers and Web forum users would be required to register. In September, Abdel Rahman al-Hazzaa, a spokesperson for the ministry, said the license requirement would not apply to bloggers, according to Agence France-Presse. The bill was pending before King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in late year.
Freelance journalist Maan Aqil was released in February after spending three months in prison. The journalist was not charged or convicted of a crime, but his detention apparently stemmed from a 2009 report published by the news website Kuluna Shuraka that detailed alleged corruption in private and government-owned pharmaceutical factories, according to local human rights groups. Aqil said authorities told him not to work as a journalist or travel outside the country.
Ali al-Abdallah, a freelance journalist, was in custody in late year despite having completed a 30-month prison sentence. Due for release on June 17, he was informed by military prosecutors that he would face new accusations of publishing false information and undermin-ing national security, his son told CPJ. The charges stemmed from an article the journalist smuggled out of prison that was critical of Wilayat al-Faqih, a religious form of government advocated by Iranian Shiite leaders. Iran is a close ally of Syria.
Blogger Tal al-Mallohi was held throughout 2010 after security forces summoned her for questioning in December 2009, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Two days after her disappearance, security agents searched her house and confiscated her computer, Reuters reported. Ten months after she was detained, authorities accused her of spying for the United States, the newspaper Al-Watan reported, citing an unnamed security source. Al-Mallohi’s blog was devoted to Palestinian rights and was critical of Israeli policies. It also discussed the frustrations of Arab citizens with their governments and what she perceived to be the stagnation of the Arab world.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority announced in August that it planned to suspend BlackBerry messenger, e-mail, and Web-browsing services in the country until the “applications were in full compliance with UAE regulations.” The authority made the threat in an attempt to obtain unrestricted access to the contents of BlackBerry communications, including those of journalists who use the device. While the threat was never carried out, UAE’s stance prompted other countries to demand similar access, including Saudi Arabia, India, and Indonesia.