Reporters Without Borders is concerned to see that many journalists who are trying to cover the demonstrations taking place in Iraq, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya are being targeted by the security forces or prevented from doing their work.
“The embattled governments in the Maghreb and Middle East are resorting to intimidation and violence against journalists to prevent coverage of the demonstration that have been inspired by the recent events in Egypt and Tunisia,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the authorities to respect the media’s work. The public in these countries has right to receive impartial and independently reported information.”
A number of demonstrations were held on 10 February to demand better social services, stable food prices and investigations into cases of corruption. Al-Sharqiya TV correspondent Hassan Khazali was dragged into a building by unidentified individuals while covering a demonstration in Samawah, in the governorate of Al-Muthanna. The video he had filmed was deleted and some of his equipment was confiscated.
A crew working for satellite TV station Al-Hurra was denied access to the site of the demonstration. Security agents at the entrance to the city had been ordered to intercept journalists.
Iraqi Kurdistan has seen clashes between opponents and supporters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which rules in coalition with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The authorities were refusing to let journalists enter hospitals and take photos for their coverage of the demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah.
Hemin Latif, a reporter for the PUK weekly Chawder, was seriously injured while photographing an attack by demonstrators on the KDP’s local headquarters. Alan Muhamad, a photographer for the Iraqi news agency Metrography, was also injured. In all, around 40 people have been injured and five killed in the course of clashes in the city.
Members of the security forces hit a journalist working for the Iraqi satellite TV station Al-Sumaria. Journalists working for the biweekly Hawlati had to leave their office, located near the KDP building, for security reasons. They said that Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) fired random shots at their office.
Several journalists covering the 12 February demonstrations in Algiers and other Algerian cities were briefly detained and searched by anti-riot police. Those that objected were beaten. The National Union of Algerian Journalists said reporters were “violently targeted by police officers who were very quick to use their batons.” Some were detained for several hours.
Several journalists were attacked while covering the demonstrations held on 11 and 14 February in Sanaa to celebrate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation and to call on his Yemeni counterpart, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to follow suit. Video cameras were confiscated and smashed and the contents of memory cards were deleted. Some journalists were badly beaten.
Associated Press photographer Hassan Wataf was attacked with a jambiya (traditional Yemeni sword) and his video camera was taken while he was trying to cover student protests in the capital on 16 February. Al-Arabiya cameraman Abdullah Abdul Al-Qoua Al-Soufi was beaten by government supporters on a deserted street and his camera was broken. A soldier came to his assistance.
Yahya Arhab, a photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), was attacked by a dozen protesters while covering a demonstration in Sanaa yesterday. His camera was broken. Adel Abdel Mughni, a reporter for the opposition newspaper Al-Wahdawi, was beaten and his camera was stolen. Al-Jazeera cameraman Samir Nimri and AFP photographer Ahmad Ghrasi were attacked and their cameras were broken. Reuters stringer Ammar Awad was beaten on the streets of Sanaa.
The Internet was slowed down to obstruct the uploading of videos and direct coverage of the demonstration, and to hamper browsing. The government blocked accounts with Bambuser, a video streaming platform that allows users to directly share videos taken with their mobile phones. YouTube pages containing videos of the recent demonstrations have also been blocked.
Twitter account of the vice-president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (@Nabeelrajab) has been censored. Miguel Marquez, a US journalist working for ABC News, was attacked and beaten in Manama’s Pearl Square while talking by phone with his editors and his camera was confiscated. Several foreign journalists were denied entry after landing at Manama international airport on 18 February.
Clashes took place between opponents and supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Benghazi, the country’s second largest city (1,000 km east of Tripoli), on 16 February. Thirty-eight people were injured when the demonstrators were dispersed. Human Rights Solidarity, a Geneva-based Libyan NGO, has condemned the complete absence of independent media in Libya. It also said it suspected the regime of being behind cyber-attacks on several Libyan websites based abroad.
The daily Libya Al-Youm reported that internal security forces brief arrested Taqi al-Din al-Shalawi, the director of the local news website Irasa, and Abdel Fattah Bourwaq, its editor, on 16 February. The blogger Mohammed al-Ashim Masmari was arrested the same day after giving interviews to several satellite TV stations including the Qatar-based Al Jazeera and the BBC’s Arabic service about the demonstrations.
The authorities have forbidden local cable TV operators to offer Al Jazeera but it is available by satellite. The Arab news website Shaffaf reported that, in an attempt to stop the protests, “the official media have orchestrated a campaign against those who are trading on the blood of the martyrs.” The authorities are also preventing journalists from moving about freely within the country.
Internet service was cut off in Libya on February 19 as the regime evidently moved to strip anti-government protestors of ways to organize and communicate, according to Arbor Networks.
In Iran, anti-government demonstrations have also prompted a crackdown on journalists and bloggers. (read: http://en.rsf.org/iran-journalists-arrested-relatives-17-02-2011,39572.html)
Image Courtesy of DayLife - University students hold portraits of Middle Eastern protesters and flags as they take part in a rally in Seoul to support demonstrations in the Middle East, February, 2011 - Reuters