The International Press Institute (IPI) is concerned about the safety of journalists in the Middle East and North Africa following a number of press freedom violations that have been reported since the beginning of the month. Recent attacks on journalists in Lebanon, Iraq and Oman, and new laws on the table in Iraq, Egypt and Libya serve to inhibit free speech in the region.
Several journalists have been harmed and one killed in the past week, reports say. According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the violence in Haffa over the past week has resulted in a reporter and cameraman for the pro-government TV station Ikhariya being wounded after bullets hit his car. In a separate attack on June 9, cameraman Khaled Ibrahem Al Bakar, a citizen journalist and one of the founders of Alaasi Revolution News Network, was shot and killed, according to Al Jazeera.
In Kirkut, Iraq, on June 13, Marwan Ibrahim, a reporter for Agence France-Presse (AFP), was badly injured along with two others after he was targeted by a car bomb, reports said.
According to Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star, Ghadi Francis, an Al Jadeed (New TV) reporter, was attacked on June 10 after covering party elections of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) that took place on a mountain near Beirut. Francis was asked to leave by Hussein Hachem, bodyguard for SSNP MP Assad Hardan, and after refusing to do so was physically forced to move. She and fellow journalist, Firas Al Choufi, were physically kicked and punched. Francis claims the attack was due to an article she had written previously criticising the SSNP. The SSNP has since apologized for the attack.
On June 4, the Attorney General of Oman warned of “the recent increase in defamatory statements and calls for sedition by some people under the guise of freedom of expression” and expressed his intention to “take all necessary legal action against those uttering, circulating, encouraging or contributing to them,” according to a translation by Reporters Without Borders. Since last week dozens of bloggers, lawyers, writers and journalists have been arrested, including one Reuters journalist who was briefly detained and stripped of his press I.D. The move has been criticised by several human rights agencies including the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.
This deplorable treatment of journalists in the Arab world is cause for increased concern as calls for limitations on media freedom have taken rise in other countries, including Libya, where a law was passed by the National Transitional Council that briefly criminalized the glorification of Gaddafi as well as criticism of the revolution or its ideals, before it was deemed “unconstitutional” by Libya’s supreme court today. In Iraq, Deputy Interior Minister Adnan Al Assdi reportedly described freedom of the press as a “threat to national security”, referring to a law under consideration which reports say would punish the spreading of information “against public interest” and will limit internet access.