A woman walks past riot police standing guard during a demonstration in Algiers on Saturday. (Reuters/Louafi Larbi )
A woman walks past riot police standing guard during a demonstration in Algiers on Saturday. (Reuters/Louafi Larbi )

Journalists in the Middle East face multiple attacks

New York, February 14, 2011As protests spread from Tunisia and Egypt to other countries in the region, journalists have been targeted by security forces, in Yemen, Iran, and Algeria, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

“We condemn the authorities in Yemen, Iran, and Algeria for pursuing a course of violence and intimidation to prevent media coverage of protests inspired by events in Egypt and Tunisia,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

On Friday, Yemeni security forces assaulted an undetermined number of journalists who were covering a march in the capital, Sana’a, in solidarity with the Egyptian revolution, according to the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate. The syndicate also reported similar attacks on journalists on Sunday during demonstrations calling for the ouster of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Yemeni newspaper Al-Ghad reported that journalist Khalil al-Barh was detained by unidentified men in the kind of vehicle used by security forces for 30 minutes in Sana’a’s Tahrir square. Al-Barh was released but only after security forces roughed him up and deleted footage from his camera, according to Al-Ghad.

Also on Sunday, in various locations throughout the capital, men assaulted Associated Press photographer Hani al-Ansi, Reuters photographer Khaled al-Mahdi, and Wajdi al-Salmi, a reporter for the newspaper Hadith al-Madina. The journalists had their cameras either confiscated or destroyed, local journalists told CPJ. Men in plainclothes tried to kidnap prominent journalist Samia al-Aghbry but were prevented from doing so by a group of demonstrators. Al-Aghbry was injured when she fell while trying to escape, local journalists told CPJ. She was taken to a hospital and released. Al-Jazeera reported on the air that the BBC’s correspondent was attacked today as he covered ongoing demonstrations, but did not provide additional information.

The Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate submitted a complaint to the prosecutor-general, demanding an investigation into acts of violence and intimidation against journalists in recent days.

In Iran, authorities also took measures to stem reporting on demonstrations scheduled for today in some 35 cities and towns throughout the country. In addition to keeping opposition leaders under house arrest, cutting their phone lines and other forms of electronic communications, and announcing that it will deal forcefully with any demonstrators, Iranian authorities have also reduced the speed of all Internet connections inside the country to a virtual crawl in an effort to stem the flow of information, particularly photographs and videos of any potential confrontations, reformist news websites reported.

On Friday, the BBC announced that “its Persian Television service is being jammed from within Iran following coverage of the political unrest in Egypt.” BBC Global News Director Peter Horrocks said that “jamming should stop immediately. The events in Egypt are being viewed by the entire world and it is wrong that our significant Iranian audience is being denied impartial news and information from BBC Persian TV.”

Iranian officials announced on Sunday that a specialized media court would adjudicate what it called “media crimes” as of an unspecified date. Abbas Zagholi, a ranking official within the judiciary, is quoted by the pro-government Khabar as saying that such a court “was necessary because of special media crimes,” without specifying what those entailed. Press crimes are currently adjudicated by Revolutionary Courts.

Over the past week, at least five journalists have been arrested, according to news reports. It is unclear whether these arrests are directly linked to renewed demonstrations by the opposition or if they are part of the general crackdown against journalists that has been ongoing since June 2009.  

Plainclothes officers arrested Taghi Rahmani, a journalist, author, and political activist, at home on February 9, the Deutsche Welle Persian Service reported. Though no warrant was presented at the time of his arrest, conservative website Bultan News quoted a “reliable source” who said that Rahmani was involved in the “seditious” acts of 2009–a term used by the Iranian government to reference post-election protests. Security forces arrested reformist journalists and bloggers Meysam Mohammadi and Omid Mohaddes at home on the night of February 10, according to reformist news website Kaleme. No official reasons for the two arrests have been announced, according to local news websites. Journalist Maziar Khosravi was arrested at his office in the daily Sharq on February 11. Khosravi has previously worked as editor-in-chief of the reformist website Hammihan, editor-in-chief of Aftab, and foreign affairs editor of reformist newspapers Mardomsalari and Bahahr.  No warrant and no reasons were given for his arrest, according to Kaleme. Freelance reformist journalist Nozhat Amirabadian was also arrested on February 11, according to the reformist news website Human Rights House of Iran (RAHANA). Amirabadian has previously worked for multiple reformist news websites such as Fararu, Hammihan, and Aftab. No warrants or reasons for arrest were presented at the time of Amirabadian’s arrest, RAHANA reported.

In Algeria, security forces prevented journalists from covering anti-government protests in major Algerian cities on Saturday, according to local and international news reports. Kamel Amarni, secretary-general of the Algerian National Syndicate, told CPJ that security forces stopped and searched several journalists before confiscating their equipment. Police officers detained Bilel Zehani, a photojournalist with the Algerian agency Agence NewPress, for two hours and erased his camera’s memory card, Amarni said. Internet service was shut down for several hours on Saturday and Facebook accounts deleted across the country, according to news reports.