We often speak about the violation of liberty of speech on the post-Soviet territory. About hidden publicity and censorship. About attacks against journalists. But at the same time in the East they try bloggers for “insulting prophets.” Can one apply the European standards for the Islamic world? What are the conditions Arabian media have to work in? How can foreign journalists resist the authoritarian regime during their business trips? In order to find answers to these questions Den’s press-club is starting a new rubric “The Media and Islam.” The first countries in the review are the ones that recently became the talk of the town.
What do Syria and Egypt have in common? The two countries not only belong to the Islamic world, but to its Sunni (orthodox) part. For many years in these countries the ruling party has been fighting with the “opposition” and the religious worldview has been fighting against the secular one. Public activists and media workers are the most often accused of antigovernment activity formulated as “preparation for insurrection,” “threat to constitutional order,” “kindling hatred and incitement to a riot,” “insult of Islam,” etc. What is more, in these countries they imprison and kill journalists the most often.
The developments in this country are attracting the attention of the whole world. Will America venture on intervening into the Islamic world? Will Russia continue being a passive observer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime struggling with jihad military alignments Jabhat Al-Nusra and Dawla Islamiya also known as “Islamic State of Syria and Iraq” positioning themselves as the opposition? What is going on in the country? These questions make more and more foreign journalists buy a flight ticket to Syria. However, unfortunately, they often become one-way tickets. According to “Reporters without Borders,” since the beginning of the civil war in Syria (March 2011) about a hundred of journalists have been killed there. Six of them were foreigners and the others were Syrians. What is more, journalists in Syria are between the hammer and the anvil literally and figuratively. The Russian journalist Yulia Latynina said on the radio “Ekho Moskvy”: “What should we do with Syria? I have a simple answer. We should do rebranding and never call those who are fighting with Assad the opposition. They should be called Al-Qaeda. There is one enemy for the West – bloody dictator al-Assad. There is another enemy of the West – terroristic organization Al-Qaeda. They are fighting with each other.” Arrests and kidnapping of journalists by military groups from “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” whose aim is to impose their law on the subject territory, make an important part of the growing wave of violence. Last spring fighters from the “opposition” attacked the headquarters of the Independent News Agency in Raqqa and arrested ten employees and three visitors. The visitors were released ten days later, however, they kept the rest of the people for 25 days and, according to the victims, they were tortured. Journalists are arrested basing on sentences of so-called legal committees. Courts explain their decisions referring to religious texts or the Arab Unified Penal Code approved by the Arad League in Cairo in 1996. The absence of any single code and coordination of these institutions influence decisions of the court and rights of arrested and imprisoned. As for Bashar al-Assad’s regime, over the last three months governmental forces have killed several civil journalists. Now Syria is the most dangerous country for journalists since neither the ruling party, nor the “opposition” are interested in truthful coverage of their actions.
Sky News cameraman Mick Deane, killed in Cairo on August 14 was the thousandth journalist in the list of the Committee to Protect Journalists whose death was a result of their professional activity. The New York Times called that day “the worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history.” According to the newspaper, the number of killed totaled 683 people and over 4,000 of injured. The conflict developed between the supporters and opponents of the former president of Egypt Mohamed Morsi, appointee of Muslim Brothers who came to power last year after the military coup. Unlike the overthrown Islamic president Hosni Mubarak, Morsi was expected to give a gulp of freedom to repressed Egyptian media. However, he never became his opponent’s antipode and continued censoring the media. For instance, Morsi preserved the post of Minister for Information which has existed since Mubarak’s rule and appointed to this post one of his closest associates Saleh Abdullah Maksud. Aspiring to control the state media the elect of the Egyptians went even further: in the draft of the new constitution he speeded up new infringement of liberty of speech, in particular by introducing “insult of prophets” into the list of crimes. Also, the government was allowed to close down press agencies if the investigation finds out that journalists “invaded into citizens’ privacy and did not respect the national security requirements.” Thus the concepts in the judiciary are being substituted and simplified, since any democratic thought can be interpreted as violation of a religious law. Cartoonist Amro Salim who hand constantly criticized Morsi in the daily edition Al-Shorouk informed the Committee to Protect Journalists that everyday he is threatened to be killed on Facebook. “It is nothing new,” Salim says. “I am used to being threatened all the time. However, instead of calling me non-patriotic, they started calling me ‘kafir’ which means ‘infidel.’ This bothers me more.” In general, the Committee to Protect Journalists registered at least 78 cases of censorship from August 2012 till July 3, 2013 when Morsi’s regime crashed. Supporters of Muslim Brothers tried to impede the coverage of protest actions by journalists. According to the studies of the Committee, they committed 72 assaults. The overthrow of one more dictator resulted in imposing another state of emergency in the country. The first clashes between the ruling and the oppositionist camps happened the same day when Mohamed Morsi was overthrown; the second happened in mid-August when Sky News cameraman Mick Deane was killed. The media were covering these events in the opposite ways which resulted in their persecution. On August 15 the Egyptian security forces raided to the office of Al-Jazeera channel in Cairo. According to Reuters, the previous raid to the Cairo Al-Jazeera office happened on July 3. Now broadcasting of the television station ultimately stopped. During the raid of the Egyptian police to the Cairo office of the Turkish informational agency Ihlas News Agency head of the office Tahir Osman was arrested. Security forces also raided the Cairo office of the television station Al-Aqsa, related to HAMAS [Palestinian fundamental Islamic movement. – Author]. The equipment of the channel was confiscated and the office was closed down. The number of killed and badly injured Arabian and foreign journalists is growing with every tide of protests. “Now journalists are more endangered than they were under Hosni Mubarak’s rule, from both legal point and use of force,” representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists Sherif Mansour emphasized. In Egypt, just like in Syria, journalists are suffering from both new provisional government and supporters of the former president. In general, since July 3 in Egypt five journalists have been killed, 80 journalists have been arrested (7 of them still are) and at least 40 journalists have experienced physical abuse from the police or pro-Morsi protestors.
Media workers suffer the most during hostilities, civil wars, emergency states or mass collisions of civilians with security forces. Journalists in Syria have forgotten the words “legal” and “liberty of speech.” The taste of impunity leads those who have arms beyond any norms. Perfidious reference to Islam is only a disguise for authoritarian leaders. Syria and Egypt are erupting volcanoes and their media, just like Pompeii, risk every day to be buried under an avalanche of censorship.
In our coming reviews you will have a possibility to read about hunger strikes and murders of bloggers in Iran; 600 licks of a stick for insulting Islam in Saudi Arabia; why the current Turkish government is accusing 275 people of being involved into secret confederacy with the ultranationalist organization Ergenekon; the religious confrontation in Ethiopia; opposition activity of media in the Republic of Chad; conflict of national minorities with lethal outcome in Pakistan, etc.