x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

A year of violence against journalists

An Arab commentator notes that reporters, bloggers and citizen journalists have borne the brunt of upheavel in the Middle East and North Africa. Other topics: Syria and Iraq.

2012 was a year of unprecedented violence against journalists, especially in Mena region

In an article for the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat, the Syrian opposition figure Fayez Sara commented on a recent report by the Reporters Without Borders organisation on violence against journalists in 2012.

The report confirmed that 2012 was the deadliest year for journalists since Reporters Without Borders began producing its annual roundup in 1995. In numbers: 88 journalists were killed last year, 879 arrested, 1993 threatened or physically attacked, 38 were kidnapped, and 73 fled their country.

In addition, six media assistants and 47 citizen-journalists were killed, and 144 bloggers and netizens were arrested.

The worst-hit regions were North Africa and the Middle East.

"[These aggressions] indicate a serious deterioration of the freedom of expression and highlight infractions against the right to publish and exchange information and news," said the writer.

"Various factors provided the background for the violence and terrorism acts that targeted media personnel and citizen-journalists. Violence, counter-violence and official policies provided the host environment for such incidents, as seen in Syria. Other factors include organised political oppression, as witnessed in Iran and China, as well as widespread chaos as is the case in Somalia and Pakistan," the writer explained.

Syria proved to be the deadliest place for news providers last year. The authorities sought to restrict and control the movement of journalists and reporters from within Syria and from abroad. This led to "illegitimate" journalistic activity that contradicted the authorities' plans and orientation. Foreign reporters, especially those providing coverage that did not conform to the Syrian government's point of view, infiltrated Syrian territories and were met with harsh measures ranging from imprisonment and deportation to death.

Syrian authorities weren't alone in exacting harsh punishments against news personnel; anti-regime forces were just as brutal, especially with Syrian journalists working for official Syrian news agencies and foreigners who were seen as compliant with the authorities.

The main objective behind the plight of reporters this past year was to limit the gathering and dissemination of news and information. In some cases, possession of a TV camera or filming events on mobile phones were sufficient reasons for arresting people or killing them.

"The continuing and escalating violence against citizen-journalists and reporters in Syria for the second year in a row, and in other parts of the world, proves that the efforts of legal organisations and unions have been futile. New methods and schemes must be put into action to protect news providers around the world and to guarantee their right to information gathering and dissemination," Mr Sara concluded.

Syrian regime trades on fear of extremists

Facing uprisings from their peoples, all Arab tyrants have attempted to get them and the international community to panic over the scenario of hard-line Islamists running the show if they were to be toppled, Syrian journalist Faisal Al Qassem opined in the Qatari paper Al Sharq yesterday.

Libya's Muammar Qaddafi played a silly game when he warned the West that Al Qaeda was going to take power and pose a threat if he left. But his game didn't trick anybody, and he ended up dead. Islamists did not win in the post-revolution elections, the writer noted.

Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was probably the ruler who traded most on Islamists during his long reign. But his excuse of Islamist extremism failed to abort the revolution, and the Islamists who followed him had a very small victory and are now facing fierce opposition.

Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh did the same. And today, "the hobgoblin of Islamists" has resurfaced in Syria, where the regime is using it to instil fear in Syrians and the world.

But the Syrian regime is infamous for "manufacturing extreme groups to use them against the Syrians and the world in critical times". The accusations by the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, that the Syrian regime trained the terrorist groups and sent them to Iraq are still fresh in people's memories.

All Iraqi politicians are responsible for crisis

Directly or indirectly, all of Iraq's politicians are party to the volatility plaguing their country, wrote Shamlan Al Essa in the UAE-based paper Al Ittihad.

All Iraqis, whether Shiites, Sunni, Kurds, Turkmen or others, are responsible for the crisis, because they gave their approval to build a socially divided and sectarian Iraq, noted the writer.

The government formed was sectarian, albeit ruling in the name of democracy and the rule of law. Politicians in government and the opposition, who are responsible for Iraq's embezzled resources and its division, failed to come clean to the people.

Iraqi analysts say stability and harmony are highly unlikely in Iraq, and so is economic welfare. Some opine that the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, will not succeed in introducing reform, facing corruption and establishing the rule of law, amid an environment fraught with mistrust and bickering.

Curiously, most alliances in Iraq, including Al Iraqiya, the Al Sadr Movement and the Islamic Supreme Council, have a significant representation in government and opposition. Yet they do not work together for the good of the Iraqi people.

The question is: can Iraqis unite and steer away from sectarianism?


* Digest compiled by Translation Desk