Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Middle East: Don’t Touch The King, The President

BY KAREEM EZZAT* Kind permission IDN-InDepthNews Service

(IDN) - Unlike chess games, where players are eager to win by overthrowing the king, the situation in Western-blessed Arab ruling regimes is completely the opposite. There, the king (or his factual equivalent -- the president) is simply unapproachable, untouchable and untellable.

Be a journalist in an Arab country, dream that it might be true that there is that freedom of expression, which such regimes enjoy speaking about, and just try to test it -- you will be either persecuted, or your publication closed down, and in both cases fined, or you will simply be “sent behind the sun”!

Here some examples.

In November and December this year, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the “abduction of Omar Mestiri, director of Radio Kalima, a private radio station based in Tunis”. “Mestiri was attacked by unidentified assailants in Tunis around midday, before being bundled into a car and driven to an unknown location.”

"We are appalled that a leading voice of independent journalism has been assaulted and abducted," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "The inaction of the authorities over this increasingly violent campaign against independent journalism is intolerable and suggests strongly that the government is implicated in the attacks."

According to the Syndicat National des Journalistes Tunisiens (SNJT), Mestiri was picked up in central Tunis as he was speaking to a lawyer and has not been seen since.


“This is the latest in a series of attacks and acts of repression against journalists in recent weeks,” said IFJ on Nov. 23. “Two weeks ago Slim Boukdhir, a freelance journalist and correspondent of Al Arabya newspaper in Tunisia, was similarly assaulted and abducted by unidentified men on 28 October.”

The federation reported that Boukdhir was later found “dumped near a park stripped of his clothes, having sustained serious injuries. A few days later his house was surrounded by security forces who denied access to all visitors for four days.”

IFJ also reported that “another prominent journalist, Ben Brick, was arrested on 29 October and is awaiting trial in a case his lawyer described as an attempt by the authorities to silence legitimate journalism, after publication in the French press of his articles critical of President Ben Ali's government.”


Weeks before, Tunisia confirmed its prohibition to Al Jazeera TV network, because it dares wiring reports about suspected human rights abuses by the Tunisian authorities, including the persecution of local human rights organisations.

In the first week of August, the Moroccan government sequestrated two local publications, and a foreign one, French Le Monde, because they dared printing the results of a survey of the citizens’ opinion about the first ten years of King Mohammed VI.

Few months ago, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority ordered Al Jazeera office and team of journalists working in the Palestinian West Bank, to refrain from working because the network dared wiring statements by Farouk Kaddoumi, secretary general of the Abbas chaired organisation FATAH, saying that the president was involved in a plot with Israel’s premier Ariel Sharon, to kill his predecessor Yasser Arafat.

And sometime before, some Egyptian newspapers dared printing reports on President Hosni Mubarak’s health conditions, and their chief editors were all put on trial.


In its ‘Breaking the Chains' 2008 annual report into press freedom violations in the Arab World and Iran, the IFJ said that journalists' unions throughout the region are demanding the repeal of all laws that led to the jailing of journalists.

"It has been a turbulent year for journalists," said IFJ General Secretary. "In many countries there have been more court cases against editors and reporters, but journalists are fighting back."

The IFJ add “journalists work under the constant threat of jail, but they are also aware that people in the region are "hungry for independent news and credible journalism."

The Breaking the Chains report, which was compiled jointly by the International Federation of Journalists and its member unions, records the cases of jailed journalists in the past year, identifies the key legal articles that need reform in each country and reports on the major developments in the past year.

“Many countries have media laws that permit the jailing of journalists for undermining the reputation of the state, the president, the monarch or the religion. The laws are also used to suppress reporting of corruption or scrutiny of government actions.”

In Iraq, the shock assassination of the president of the Iraqi Union of Journalists and subsequent assassination attempt against his successor, recalls the continued pressure in which journalists work despite the significant improvement in security overall, IFJ reports.

These are just some examples: all the above-mentioned regimes are fully backed (or acting under occupation) by the United States, and courted by the European Union, in both cases as being “moderate regimes”. (IDN-InDepthNews/13.12.09)

Copyright © 2009 IDN-InDepthNews Service

*Kareem Ezzat is a Middle East political analyst.

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