Ziad al-Ajili, head of Baghdad's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, inspects the aftermath of a raid on his office today. (AP/Hadi Mizban)
Ziad al-Ajili, head of Baghdad's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, inspects the aftermath of a raid on his office today. (AP/Hadi Mizban)

Libya: foreign reporters ‘outlaws’; Mideast attacks continue

New York, February 23, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the ongoing attack on journalists and bloggers in the Middle East. Today the Libyan deputy foreign minister warned foreign journalists crossing the eastern border that they will be treated as “outlaws,” according to news reports. In Iraq, gunmen raided the office of a local press freedom group; in Egypt, pro-government supporters attacked a group of local journalists; and in Syria, a young blogger was arrested on Sunday, according to news reports. 

Some foreign journalists in Libya have been able to enter the country through the eastern border, according to news reports, but today, Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Khaim warned those who entered Libya illegally that they will be arrested if they do not give themselves in to authorities, according to Agence France-Presse. “There are journalists who entered illegally and we consider them as if they are collaborating with Al-Qaeda and as outlaws and we are not responsible for their security,” Khaim said. Qaddafi’s government lost control over the eastern border on Tuesday, according to news reports.

“We are alarmed by reports that the Libyan authorities consider journalists who have entered the country recently to cover the political upheaval to be outlaws and collaborators with Al-Qaeda,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “The world is closely watching how the authorities in Tripoli behave toward all journalists. They should desist from such threatening rhetoric and allow the media to work freely. ”

Attacks on Internet connectivity in the region have continued. In Libya, Net connections with the wider world were suspended entirely for periods of several hours over the weekend. Levels of incoming and outgoing Internet traffic as recorded by monitors outside the country are unusually low, suggesting that the Net may be being artificially restricted or specific regions cut off from outside access. Yemen traffic also dropped earlier in the month, which Internet security experts Arbor Networks have suggested may be due to the installation of increased filtering.

In Baghdad today, armed military forces stormed the office of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), a local press freedom group, at 2 a.m. Bashar Mandalawy, a project manager at JFO, told CPJ: “They broke the doors, vandalized the office, broke furniture, and confiscated computers, cameras, and JFO’s archives,” including personal information for all the group’s employees.  Qassim al-Moussawi, a military spokesman in Baghdad, told The Associated Press that the raid was carried out by the Iraqi army, which allegedly had information about a “company operating without a license.”

Today in Egypt, a mob loyal to former President Hosni Mubarak and guards for the Middle East News Agency (MENA), a government news service, attacked a group of journalists who were protesting outside the agency’s building, according to local journalists. Mahmoud al-Arabi, a journalist for Al-Shorouk newspaper, told CPJ that around 25 journalists joined a dozen MENA journalists who were protesting against the agency’s pro-Mubarak editorial line. The journalists demanded that MENA’s head, Abdallah al-Hasan, step down. An unidentified journalist working for opposition newspaper Al-Ahrar was injured and hospitalized. The military dispersed the mob.

In Syria, security forces arrested popular blogger Ahmad Hadayfa–who writes under the name Ahmad Abu al-Khair–on Sunday in the coastal city of Banyas, according to local human rights groups. A fellow Syrian blogger speaking on the condition of anonymity told CPJ that Hadayfa’s computer was confiscated along with his sister’s. Hadayfa created a platform in Arabic that allows the hearing-impaired to listen to blog posts and his blog, Ahmadblogs, discusses technology and occasionally covers political issues. In one of his last posts, al-Khair wrote about the revolution in Tunisia, alluding to the possibility that a similar scenario could occur in Syria. “This blog post might have been the cause of his arrest,” the fellow blogger told CPJ.