Syrians living in Jordan protest in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Syria. (Reuters/Majed Jaber)
Syrians living in Jordan protest in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Syria. (Reuters/Majed Jaber)

Threats to Al-Jazeera in Jordan; journalists released in Syria

New York, April 5, 2011Al-Jazeera staffers in Jordan have received anonymous threatening phone calls warning that their office and correspondents would be attacked, Al-Jazeera’s Amman bureau chief told CPJ. Journalists in Jordan have been facing mounting dangers while covering pro-reform demonstrations, CPJ research has found.

“Jordanian authorities need to credibly investigate the threats made against Al-Jazeera immediately,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “A failure to do so would send a disturbing signal to the entire Jordanian media.”

Yasser Abu Hilala, Al-Jazeera’s Amman bureau chief, told CPJ that his office received death threats via telephone as well as on Facebook and email. Several pages have been created that have stirred hatred against Abu Hilala, CPJ research shows. The bureau chief said the threats began approximately two weeks ago, after Al-Jazeera covered pro-reform demonstrations in Amman. “Our coverage is the only reason behind the threats,” Abu Hilala said.

On Monday, 52 Jordanian journalists issued a statement voicing their support for Al-Jazeera’s journalists. “Some have gone too far by inciting and agitating against the press, against journalists, and against correspondents to a degree that is alarming to all of us,” the statement said. “This has prompted us all to raise our voice and reject such threats, which fall within the category of intellectual terrorism; indeed they are a criminal offense (death threats and assaults by unidentified individuals), punishable by the law.” It also called on the government to investigate the threats and punish the perpetrators.

A local journalist, who asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisal, told CPJ that several reporters received phone and email threats of physical harm and unless they stop covering the reform movement in the kingdom. “The situation is no longer about censorship or repressive legislation–the danger has become personal,” the journalist said.

On March 24, journalists covering pro-reform demonstrations were beaten and had their equipment confiscated or destroyed. At least 20 journalists were attacked on that day by plainclothes attackers and security forces, according to local news reports.

In an unrelated case, Syrian authorities today released two Jordanian journalists, according to the Jordanian news website Amoon News. Akram Abu Safi and Sobhi Naim al-Asal, both of whom work for the regional radio production company Arab Broadcasting Service, were detained on March 24 while on their way to Lebanon to deliver equipment. Doha Hassan, a photographer and journalist working for Orient TV, remains in custody, two local journalists told CPJ. Hassan was detained on March 26.

The signal of Orient TV, a private, Dubai-based satellite channel, has been jammed in Syria since March 25.