Attacks on Journalists and the Press in Muslim Countries
|Thursday, February 1,2007 00:00|
|By Committee to Protect Journalists|
Being a journalist in a Muslim country is one of the most perilous jobs at this time. In comparison to the USA where freedom of the press is relatively untampered with (see video at the end of this article), critiquing the status quo or those in power in Muslim countries can lead to dire consequences, including physical assault, abduction, torture and death.
This inability of Muslim leaders to tolerate negative feedback or even dissent is a departure from the tenets and practice of Islam. Once a person stood up in a public meeting and told `Umar, the second caliph in Islamic history and companion of the Prophet Muhammad (s), to fear [and respect] Allah. The audience tried to stop him, but ‘Umar (r) said: “Let him speak. He is free to give his opinion. If people do not give their opinions they are useless, and if we (the rulers) do not listen to them we are useless.” On another occasion, `Umar (r) said: “May God have mercy upon anyone who points out my faults to me.”
Instead of trying to repress the press and to gag journalists, these Muslim leaders should realize that negative feedback is a signal that whatever they are doing is not working or may actually be against the best interests of their countrymen. In a hadith (no. 2942) reported in Sunan Abu Dawud by Abu Maryam al-Azdi, the Prophet (s) said, If Allah puts anyone in the position of authority over the Muslims’ affairs and he secludes himself (from them), not fulfilling their needs, wants, and poverty, Allah will keep Himself away from him, not fulfilling his need, want, and poverty.
Compare the open-mindedness and transparency enjoined by Islam with the current status of journalists and the press in a few Muslim countries:
Authorities use the law to harass the private press, with the help of a penal code that makes it a crime to defame the president, the judiciary, Parliament, and the military. After his re-election in 2004, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, together with his political and business allies, filed numerous legal complaints against private newspapers criticizing the government. There are now many criminal defamation cases against the press in Algiers courtrooms. In an ironic twist, Mohamed Benchicou (pictured here), former publisher of Le Matin, was jailed on charges of violating currency laws, but many are convinced that these charges were brought in response to Le Matin’s criticism of Bouteflika and his state ministers. For more on Algeria, please click here
New regulations enacted by the Bangladeshi interim government limit news reporting drastically. The Emergency Powers Rules of 2007 restrict press coverage of political news, and impose penalties of up to five years in prison on violators. The Emergency Powers Rules cover a whole range of political activities, and allow the government to ban or censor print and broadcast news about rallies and other political activities that it considers “provocative or harmful”.
Iranian authorities have gone after the independent media in general and on Internet journalists in particular. Authorities jailed Web bloggers, banned four newspapers for publishing a letter by a reformist cleric, and closed the Tehran bureau of Al-Jazeera. All the bloggers arrested in a 2004 crackdown were released except for Mojtaba Saminejad (pictured here). He was sentenced in June 2005 to two years in prison and denied appeal. Many of the released bloggers said they were tortured in jail. For more on Iran, please click here.
Iraq is a very dangerous place for journalists. Journalist murders, deaths in crossfire, abductions, and detentions abound. 22 journalists and three media workers were killed in action in 2005. Overall, a total to 60 journalists and 22 media support staff have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003. Unfortunately, it has been also alleged that US troops arrested, beat, and deprived at least two journalists, Luis Castro and Victo Silva, of food and water for four days. Their equipment, vehicle and video tapes were also confiscated. Their whole story can be read here. For more on Iraq, please click here.
In January, Adel Aidan, a correspondent for Al-Arabiya, was arrested by authorities shortly after the station broadcasted a report of clashes between Kuwaiti government forces and militants. According to Aidan’s lawyer, the journalist was charged with “reporting false news that undermines the country’s position internally and abroad.” Aidan was released four days later. In February, during a meeting with Kuwaiti newspaper editors, Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah threatened either to suspend or to shut down any newspaper that publishes information related to the government’s fight against religious extremists. For more on Kuwait, Libya, and Mauritania, please click here.
Video Description: This TV ad was produced in the middle-east in November 2006, in commemoration of Gebran Tueni, former publisher of Lebanese daily newspaper An-Nahar, that was assassinated in a car bomb on the 12th of December 2005, and promotes freedom of speech and the power of media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Malaysian government’s interference with Ai FM’s radio program for airing listeners’ views about a controversial government order that affected Chinese-language schools. The program’s main host, Wan Piao Ming, was replaced on July 3 without explanation and the program was re-launched with a focus on less controversial topics such as business and relationship advice. For more on Malaysia, please click here.
9 journalists (including Hayatullah Khan in 2006 and pictured here) have died since 2002, and at least 20 other journalists have been assaulted or improperly detained. In recent months, the shooting deaths of two journalists apparently went uninvestigated by the government, and the teenage brother of a BBC reporter was shot after the family’s home was bombed in December of last year. In addition, five men have disappeared, two of whom showed up more than three months in secret government detention and were then charged. The other three are still missing as of September 21, 2006. For more on Pakistan, please click here.
Saudi newspapers now publish news accounts that could not have been made public five years ago. Stories on crime, drug trafficking, and the security forces’ battles with armed extremists are now common. But coverage of key political issues such as the actions of the royal family, the influence of the religious establishment, and government corruption are off limits. “Criticism goes always to the lower end of the [ladder], especially if the official has power,” noted one Saudi academic who was once banned from writing in the press because of his political criticisms. “And if the official is a prince, it means [that] he never makes mistakes. Have you ever heard or read anything public criticizing the ministry of [the] interior?… The same thing applies to the ministry of defense and ministry of foreign affairs,” he told CPJ. For more on Saudi Arabia, please click here.
President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali’s 18-year-old administration continues to harass the private press and stopped the journalists’ union from holding its first conference. In the past, journalists have been assaulted. In 2000, several police officers beat journalists Sihem Bensedrine and Mohammed Bechri. At the same time, Omar Mestiri was thrown to the ground and repeatedly beaten by other police officers, who then drove him some sixty kilometres from Tunis and left him in the countryside. A few hours before the attack, Sihem Bensedrine found that her car had been searched. She found a knife in the back seat of her car, which she believes was left as a death threat. Three journalists started hunger strikes in 2005, two of them to protest their detention. Three fact-finding missions done in January, May, and September by the Tunisian Monitoring Group determined that attacks on freedom of expression and association and the media “have escalated since January 2005.” For more on Tunisia, please click here.
Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian newspaper Agos, was murdered recently. Please see video about Hrant Dink below.
Now please watch the video below, “The President of the US owes this country an apology” and compare: